Archive for the ‘Financial Markets/ Finance’ Category

If Trump is so bad, how come equity markets are so stable?

August 28, 2017

The superb Gulzar blog has a mid-week linkfest (previous week) in which he points to this starting thing.

The Trump administration has been mostly condoned by one and all. However, one barometer proves all this wrong. This is is the equity markets which ahs emerged as one of the key benchmarks for comparing everything. Any policy or action is usually judged in terms of stock markets. If markets are fine so is the action is the general call of things.

However, this blog does not really buy this recent stock market fascination for everything as it is quite biased and could go terribly wrong as well. Markets correct and move on but leads to all kinds of problems for people who built certain expectations based on equity market reactions earlier.

But nevertheless, it is amazing to note that despite all kinds of admonitions, the volatility in equity markets is lowest in Trump’s first 6 months compared to any other President:

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What is its working at a sprawling bitcoin mine in Inner Mongolia (China)..

August 28, 2017

Superb piece about a firm behind bitcoin mining.

The article is quite in the Coasean spirit. People often talked about markets but Coase saw that most exchanges are actually governed by firms. Which led to one of the most amazing insights of economics that it is firms which via lower transaction costs enable exchanges.

Likewise, we talk about how cryptocurrencies shall usher in a new world of decentralised digital currency and lead to better monetary markets. But we really do not look at the back-office of these cryptocurrencies and ask who is doing all this stuff?

This interesting article speaks about this Chinese firm Bitmain which provides 4% of the processing power in the global bitcoin network. It was fascinating to connection between old industry and new one. The region was first a coal bed and thus was a natural home to electricity which is needed immensely in these operations:

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How women started but got crowded out of the computing revolution…

August 21, 2017

One just blogged about women stockbrokers in NYSE.

Then was reading this article by Tamal Bandypadhyaya on how with each subsequent data, men are being seperated from boys in Indian banking. To this Bindu Ananth  of IFMR Trust tweeted and rightly so : “Given that a majority of banking assets are managed by women CEOs, the title needs editing”. Indeed!

As one finished Tamal’s piece, popped another piece from Stephen Mihm in Bloomberg View.

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Why have a Museum of Finance? (Lessons for Museums of Finance in India..)

August 18, 2017

A nice piece (old piece in 2012) by Prof Richard Sylla of NYU in the Financial History publication released by Museum of American Finance.

He narrates several examples from financial history to show why a Museum of Finance is really important. These several examples show the importance and power of finance. Apart from this, these museums also shows importance of financial education which is poor amidst most people. A museum with right kind of communication technologies helps in many ways where dozens of government programs just fail.

In India, have seen three Finance Museums. The RBI Museum in Mumbai, the RBI Archives Museum in Pune and Corporation Bank Museum in Udupi. With RBI it is expected but to see Corporation bank having such a useful museum is quite surprising. It has amazing anecdotes which even likes RBI does not have in its resources. The unseen ones there is SBI Museum in Calcutta and former State Bank of Travancore which opened one just before it got merged with SBI.

So five museums of finance are there in India as per my limited knowledge and there could be few more. Five alone is an impressive number.

The problem with these Museums is that they do not communicate much with the outside world. They take their sole purpose as one of display and nothing else.

However, in museums like Museum of American Finance under whose publication Prof Sylla writes the idea is to reach across people:

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Ladies of the Ticker: Pioneering Women Stockbrokers from the 1880s to the 1920s in New York..

August 17, 2017

George Robb (Prof of History at William Paterson University of New Jersey) has a nice piece:

During the late 19th century, a growing number of women were finding employment in banking and insurance, but not on Wall Street. Probably no area of American finance offered fewer job opportunities to women than stock broking. In her 1863 survey, The Employments of Women, Virginia Penny, who was usually eager to promote new fields of employment for women, noted with approval that there were no women stockbrokers in the United States. Penny argued that “women could not very well conduct the business without having to mix promiscuously with men on the street, and stop and talk to them in the most public places; and the delicacy of woman would forbid that.”

The radical feminist Victoria Woodhull did not let delicacy stand in her way when she and her sister opened a brokerage house near Wall Street in 1870, but she paid a heavy price for her audacity. The scandals which eventually drove Woodhull out of business and out of the country cast a long shadow over other women’s careers as brokers.

Histories of Wall Street rarely mention women brokers at all. They might note Victoria Woodhull’s distinction as the nation’s first female stockbroker, but they don’t discuss the subject again until they reach the 1960s. This neglect is unfortunate, as it has left generations of pioneering Wall Street women hidden from history. These extraordinary women struggled to establish themselves professionally and to overcome chauvinistic prejudice that a career in finance was unfeminine.

….

The first generation of women stockbrokers faced great resistance, but they chipped away at the old boys’ network on Wall Street that sought to exclude
and marginalize them. They carved out a niche for themselves as advisers and liaisons to women investors. They helped break barriers to women’s employment in brokerage firms, and they made it possible for women today to have greater financial opportunities.

Hmm..

What about women stock brokers in India? Is there any such history?

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

August 8, 2017

The presumption is before Glass Steagall repeal banks were boring and did basic stuff. Post Glass Steagall repeal in 1995, banks became adventurous and did multiple things leading to 2007 crisis.

Right?

Not so sure as per this blogpost by  of NY Fed.

So how boring have banks been in the past few decades? Let’s look at some aggregate numbers based on a database I recently assembled on the organizational structure of BHCs. Between 1970, when the data begin, and 2016, more than 13,000 unique corporations have operated at some point with a BHC charter. Of those BHCs, more than a quarter expanded their business scope beyond traditional banking, collectively adding more than 60,000 subsidiaries. These units specialized in activities spanning the financial industry, such as specialty lending, loan brokerage, securities and commodities brokerage and dealing, wealth management, insurance, and much more. 

Was it the partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 that spurred this expansion? The chart below shows the number of unique financial activities that BHCs collectively engaged in each year. The data indicate that the trend toward expanded activities in fact began in the early 1980s, and continued unmitigated throughout the 1990s. Judging from this evidence, the restrictions under Glass-Steagall did not prevent BHCs from expanding beyond traditional (“boring”) activities by BHCs, nor did its repeal accelerate that expansion. 

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

Were Financial Holding Companies Expanding? 
Perhaps instead of looking at BHCs as a whole, we should look specifically at BHCs that converted into financial holding companies (FHCs), the legal charter introduced by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) that allowed firms to expand more freely across a broader set of activities. FHCs may have be the ones that actually chose to expand, but their dynamics could be lost within those of the broader population. Out of 5,354 BHCs in existence at the end of 1999, 526 became FHCs between 2000 and 2001. The chart below shows how the scope of financial activities has fluctuated for those FHCs and for all other (non-converting) BHCs, relative to 1999. Somewhat contrary to expectations, it seems that FHCs and BHCs experienced virtually identical dynamics in the post-1999 years, with no upward trend detectable for either group. 

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

In sum, the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 does not seem to have ignited a flurry of new activities. As I note in a recent New York Fed Staff Report(see page five), banking firms had already been widening their business scope for a long time, so it is not clear that that particular regulatory reform can be considered the catalyst of the Great Recession some ten years later, nor is it immediately obvious how reinstating restrictions per se would reduce the likelihood of a future crisis. But how is it that banks were already allowed to engage in less “traditional” activities, and what does that tell us about the nature of the banking business? To address those questions, we need to take a look at the history of banking regulation—something I will cover in a follow-up post. 

Hmm.. Looking forward to the post..

The oil trader known as ‘God’ is closing down his main hedge fund

August 4, 2017

How often finance industry christens someone as God only to see God being reduced to a mere human soon thereafter.

 

Story in Bloomberg. 

Andy Hall, the oil trader sometimes known in markets as “God,” is closing down his main hedge fund after big losses in the first half of the year, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The capitulation of one of the best-known figures in the commodities industry comes after muted oil prices wrong-footed traders from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to BP Plc’s in-house trading unit. Hall’s flagship Astenbeck Master Commodities Fund II lost almost 30 percent through June, a separate person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified because the details are private.

“I’m shocked,” said Danilo Onorino, a portfolio manager at Dogma Capital SA in Lugano, Switzerland. “This is the end of an era. He’s one of the top oil traders ever.”

Hall shot to fame during the global financial crisis when Citigroup Inc. revealed that, in a single year, he pocketed $100 million trading oil for the U.S. bank. His career stretches back to the 1970s and includes stints at BP and legendary trading house Phibro Energy Inc., where he was chief executive officer.

He bet for oil prices about to rise soon which never happened leading to decline in the fund.

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Why corrupt bankers avoid jail?

July 26, 2017

Patrick Radden Keefe has a long piece but the summary is: Prosecution of white-collar crime is at a twenty-year low.

Fascinating interplay and interdependence of politics and finance…

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Looking at the Stars while making economic policy…

July 26, 2017

John K Galbraith famously said: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” 

Least did he know economists would take this seriously!

RBNZ Deputy Governor titles his speech: Looking at stars! Just that these stars are the unobserved variables which economists try along which economists shape the economy:

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Fintech: Is This Time Different?   A Framework for Assessing Risks  and Opportunities for Central  Banks 

July 24, 2017

Nice policy research paper by Bank of Canada economists:

Fintech is likely to increase competition and improve financial inclusiveness, which could reduce the cost of financial intermediation. If financial intermediation changes fundamentally, the traditional tool kit of central banks might be at risk. In this paper, we provide a framework to analyze the economics of various fintech solutions by focusing on the component technologies and underlying frictions that they solve. Moreover, we study the business models that some fintech firms are employing to understand which characteristics will likely lead to broad adoption of their technology. Our framework is meant to be general enough to use as fintech advances. Going forward, central banks and regulators will have to monitor whether these new technologies and business models are fundamentally changing money demand and the industrial organization of financial intermediation.

In this paper we focus mostly on banks and DLT. With respect to banks, we conclude that fintech firms will have incentives to either find new economies of scope or exploit the traditional economies of scope of banks by becoming regulated entities. Banks, on the other hand, will acquire or adopt the fintech innovations but might be hindered by their current business models. Lastly, we conclude that fintech might bring more change by creating new financial
intermediation applications than by changing the ones that exist today.

The slow rise of P2P lending: Moneylenders are back in business..

July 20, 2017

How things keep coming in circles especially in finance. The terms/names can change but in the end it is just some old wine in a new bottle.

Here is an interesting story of i2ifunding.com which is a Peer to Peer lending portal. It is not a classic moneylender which lent from its own capital but more an intermediary between lenders and borrowers:

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How do Venture capitalists make decisions?

July 20, 2017

Nice piece by Antoine Buteau.

Even though only 0.25% of companies receive venture financing, venture capital is an important source of financing that result in an outsized impact on the economy. Some studies estimate that 50% of U.S. IPOs are VC-backed and that these companies account for 20% of the U.S. market capitalization and 44% of R&D spending.

Although VCs fill a gap in the market by connecting entrepreneurs with good ideas but no money with investors, they are sometimes seen as a black box with little information on how they make decisions about their investments and portfolios. The authors of this paper wanted to answer these questions and they did so by surveying almost 900 VCs on multiple areas: deal sourcing, investment selection, valuation tools, deal structure, post-investment value add, exits, internal organization of the firms and relationships with limited partners. This summary will be focused on worldwide VC firms across stage (early/late) and on the information technology/software sector blended with the healthcare sector.

 

Who Would Be Affected by More Banking Deserts (branchless banking)?

July 18, 2017

Learnt about this new term from St Louis Fed blog: banking deserts:

Although technology has made it easy to bank from almost anywhere, personal and public benefits are still derived from bank branches. In areas without branches—commonly referred to as “banking deserts”—the costs and inconveniences of cashing checks, establishing deposit accounts, obtaining loans and maintaining banking relationships are exacerbated.

As expected, the deserts ill impact the poor:

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20th anniversary of Start of Asian Crisis: Is China making the same mistakes?

July 12, 2017

Prof Barry Eichengreen points to several things South East Asian Countries have done since the 1997 crisis.

For starters, the crisis countries have ratcheted down their investment rates and growth expectations to sustainable levels. Asian governments still emphasize growth, but not at any cost.

Second, Southeast Asian countries now have more flexible exchange rates. None is perfectly flexible, to be sure, but the region’s governments have at least abandoned the rigid dollar pegs that were the source of such vulnerability in 1997.

Third, countries like Thailand that were running large external deficits, heightening their dependence on foreign finance, are now running surpluses. Running surpluses has helped them accumulate foreign-exchange reserves, which serve as a form of insurance.

Fourth, Asian countries are now working together to ring-fence the region. In 2000, in the wake of the crisis, they created the Chiang Mai Initiative, a regional network of financial credits and swaps. And now they have the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to regionalize the provision of development finance as well.

Ironically, the more things change the more they remain the same. In 1997, China was not a risk. This time it is as it seems to be following the same model followed by SE Asian countries 20 years ago:

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How did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

July 7, 2017

This is just a superb article  by Alex Mayyasi who is a freelance writer. He looks at one of the most fundamental questions of finance: How did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

There is never one answer to such questions but several plausible ones. He brings the contribution of Scholastics to making finance respectable:

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Making sense of Argentina ‘s 100 year bond offer

July 5, 2017

This blog pointed earlier how Argentina managed to sell a 100 year bond recently despite such a poor fiscal history.

Carmen Reinhart points this is mainly due to search for yield:

At the end of the day, this is not about the character of the country, the maturity of the debt, or the size of the issue. It is about the coupon rate on the offering, 7.9%, which is considerably higher than most other plausible alternatives. Just as water finds its level in nature, capital finds its level in international finance: when interest rates are low in core markets, it flows to higher-yielding alternatives.

Without question (and without much precedent), interest rates are extraordinarily low in advanced economies, pulled down partly by the slowdown in longer-term output growth, but also as a consequence of official efforts. Two of the “big three” central banks, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, have lowered their policy rates into negative territory and continue to add to their balance sheets. As for the third, the US Federal Reserve’s slow motion monetary tightening has just put the federal funds rate above 1%, and plans to pare the Fed’s asset holdings appear to be in the works. As the chart shows, almost one half of GDP in advanced economies is produced where policy rates are below 0.5%. Only a sliver of activity takes place where the policy rate is above 1.5%.

Official measures extend beyond the realm of central banks, too. In terms of the huge stock of foreign exchange reserves held worldwide, the public sector holds more US Treasury securities than the private sector.

These distortions encourage investors in money centers to scan the horizon for more attractive destinations. Argentina got their attention, but so, too, did Cyprus, another country that recently had a financial crisis. Likewise, capital has flowed into Iceland at such a rapid clip that the International Monetary Fund felt obliged to warn that, “overheating risks are a clear and present concern.”

She is after all the co-author of the book which has become very important four words in economics: This time is different..

How Bank of England used its balance sheet in earlier crises? And should it issue shares to fight future crises?

July 5, 2017

Interesting post by BoE’s Bloggers James Barker, David Bholat and Ryland Thomas.

They point how BoE used its balance sheet in the earlier crises as well:

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Stock market participation in the aftermath of Satyam accounting scandal

July 4, 2017

Interesting paper by Renuka Sane.

The paper compares Satyam stock holding investors with non-Satyam stock holding investors during the breakout of the scam. The results show that though Satyam investors cash out of the stock intensively but the impact is not long-lasting:

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Thinking about speculation, markets, securities and laws…

June 29, 2017

Fascinating post by Elaine which talks about multiple things forcing one to think.

First she points how the Metro train in Boston decided to increase price of its ticket/token. The hike was effective next month. This led to hoarding of the older tickets to sell them for a cool profit later. Unfortunately, she was not the only ne thinking on those lines. This led to many buying the old tokens to sell later. However, as there was no market for the same the profit remained just a dream:

In 2003, I had the best business idea ever. The MBTA had recently announced an upcoming increase in the price of Boston transit tokens, from a dollar to $1.25. The change would not be effective until the following January, which meant that any T tokens acquired before then would be guaranteed a 25% return. I had just over a month to hoard as many tokens as possible.

I wasn’t the only one with this strategy; many of my classmates did the same. But after a month-long buying spree, it became clear that realizing those profits would be a pain in the ass.

We could never use all those tokens ourselves, and there was no secondary market because all our friends had made the same brilliant investment. If only T tokens were tradeable on the blockchain!

She then wonders why we don’t fund projects using similar tokens. The answer is the tokens could be used as security to finance something else. After all these tokenshave been issued against some value. This is how financial instruments like shares and bonds work as well. But then as law permits only few things as securities, these tokens remain unused:

Why don’t we finance all our infrastructure projects with token sales? Is Trump still looking for ways to pay for that wall? Issue a Wall Token and put it on the blockchain! Each Wall Token confers the right to one border crossing.

But it turns out such Tokens might constitute a security.

Here’s a 1977 paper about property developers who finance their facilities by selling usage licenses before construction. Two fun examples:

In the case of Holloway v. Thompson , a landowner raised money for a cemetery by selling certificates entitling the holder to a future burial spot. After the cemetery was constructed, an elderly couple sued the developer because they were unable to resell their unused spots. They had purchased 31 spaces, hoping to flip ‘em for a quick profit. The court determined that the burial rights were  unregistered securities , and buyers were refunded.

In Forman v. Community Services, Inc, a property developer sold “shares” of a low-income housing project, which could be exchanged for a three-year lease on a future apartment. After construction, the lease agreements were less valuable than expected, and the shareholders sued. The Supreme Court determined that the housing shares, despite being explicitly sold as “shares”, were not securities. The case was dismissed. It helped that the defendant was a non-profit housing co-op trying to do a civic good.

There are many more cases, and every shade of grey in between. In the 1970s, a spate of country clubs raised money through initial membership offerings, at which point the SEC directed its staff to stop issuing no-action letters in this area and advised that past letters should not be relied upon: “The Commission is concerned that inferences may be drawn from the issuance of no-action letters in this rapidly-evolving area.”

Simple post but worth many ideas.

The investment advice given by bank salespersons is like standup comedy

June 23, 2017

Dhirendra Kumar of Valueresearch does not mince words here:

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