Opinion | Why We Should Fear Easy Money – The New York Times

Ruchir Sharma

By 

Mr. Sharma is a contributing opinion writer.

ImageThe Federal Reserve in Washington DC. 
CreditCreditChristopher Lee for The New York Times

To widespread applause in the markets and the news media, from conservatives and liberals alike, the Federal Reserve appears poised to cut interest rates for the first time since the global financial crisis a decade ago. Adjusted for inflation, the Fed’s benchmark rate is now just half a percent and the cost of borrowing has rarely been closer to free, but the clamor for more easy money keeps growing.

Everyone wants the recovery to last and more easy money seems like the obvious way to achieve that goal. With trade wars threatening the global economy, Federal Reserve officials say rate cuts are needed to keep the slowdown from spilling into the United States, and to prevent doggedly low inflation from sliding into outright deflation.

Few words are more dreaded among economists than “deflation.” For centuries, deflation was a common and mostly benign phenomenon, with prices falling because of technological innovations that lowered the cost of producing and distributing goods. But the widespread deflation of the 1930s and the more recent experience of Japan have given the word a uniquely bad name.

After Japan’s housing and stock market bubbles burst in the early 1990s, demand fell and prices started to decline, as heavily indebted consumers began to delay purchases of everything from TV sets to cars, waiting for prices to fall further. The economy slowed to a crawl. Hoping to jar consumers into spending again, the central bank pumped money into the economy, but to no avail. Critics said Japan took action too gradually, and so its economy remained stuck in a deflationary trap for years.

Opinion | Everyone Claims They’re Worried About Global Finance. But Only One Side Has a Plan. – The New York Times

By Quinn Slobodian and 

Mr. Slobodian is the author of “Globalists.” Mr. Kentikelenis is a sociology professor at Bocconi University in Milan.

“”Global finance has become a popular target from both the left and, more recently, the right, particularly the nationalist right. As Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said at the recent National Conservatism Conference, what he called the “the cosmopolitan economy” has encouraged multinational corporations to move jobs and profits overseas and then “rewarded these same corporations” for “investing their profits not in American workers, not in American development, but in financial instruments that benefit the cosmopolitan elite.”

Renationalizing finance is a pressing task for any transformative government. But so far, only the left has any tangible plans on how finance can be brought down to earth and tamed toward more humane ends.

Spin a globe and you’ll see a colorful mosaic of states snug in their national borders. But the world of finance has long ceased to work this way. There are nearly 200 sovereign countries, but globally only a few dozen banks matter. We don’t live in a world of islands but inside what has been described as a “matrix of interlocking corporate balance sheets.” Financial institutions operate across territories with little respect for borders, wreaking havoc on the ability of countries to plan for a sustainable future.

Despite recent criticism from some nationalist conservatives, the right has largely ignored the problem, distracting voters instead with fantasies about migrant workers and refugees as the true perpetrators of inequality.

President Trump tapped Goldman Sachs heavily to staff his cabinet and plans no walls for the movement of money over borders. The systematic defunding of the I.R.S. means that even routine audits are becoming rare, let alone the investigation of taxable income held offshore. Rather than extend tax surveillance outward, the 2017 Trump tax plan slashed the corporate tax at home. . . . .   . .

By contrast, on the left, ideas are crackling. Elizabeth Warren recently announced her “economic patriotism” agenda, with financial reform at its heart.

Other proposals from what The Guardian called the “new left economics” target venerable institutions of financial management. Central banks — long seen as bastions of economic orthodoxy — are being called on to help avert an environmental catastrophe. Climate change poses imminent risks to financial stability that need to be factored in to central bank models.”

As McKinsey Sells Advice- Its Hedge Fund May Have a Stake in the Outcome – The New York Times

By Michael Forsythe, Walt Bogdanich and Bridget Hickey
Feb. 19, 2019, 23 c

“The sins of Valeant Pharmaceuticals are well known. Instead of spending to develop new drugs, Valeant bought out other drugmakers, then increased prices of lifesaving medicines by as much as 5,785 percent. Patients had no choice but to pay.

Valeant’s chief executive, J. Michael Pearson, was hauled into a 2016 Senate hearing and verbally thrashed by lawmakers. “It’s using patients as hostages. It’s immoral,” said Claire McCaskill, then the Democratic senator from Missouri. One executive went to prison for fraud. The company’s share price collapsed.

It hadn’t always been that way. Before Valeant’s fall, its stock was a Wall Street darling, attracting high-profile investors who tirelessly promoted the company on financial news channels. But one investor especially avoided the spotlight — a secretive hedge fund owned by McKinsey & Company, the world’s most prestigious consulting firm. McKinsey, in fact, had deep ties to the drugmaker: Four top Valeant officials, including Mr. Pearson, were McKinsey veterans, and the firm was advising Valeant on drug prices and acquisitions.

J. Michael Pearson, left, testifying on Capitol Hill in 2016 after the pharmaceutical company he led, Valeant, raised the prices of lifesaving medicines. McKinsey had both advised and invested in Valeant.CreditDrew Angerer for The New York Times
That web of relationships underscores the unusual nature of McKinsey’s hedge fund, and the potential for undisclosed conflicts of interest between the fund’s investments and the advice the firm sells to clients.”

David Lindsay:

If McKinsey is telling the truth about a wall between their consulting and this hedge fund, why do they hide it in the island of Guernsy off the coast of England, in hidden, anonymous accounts? These two points don’t agree with each other.

What It Was Like to Finally Write My Will – The New York Times

“So! Let’s talk about writing a will.Where to startFirst, I tried going online for a do-it-yourself approach. Several products can help you write your own will and other estate documents, including financial guru Suze Orman’s “Financial Security Now” and an assortment of products from LegacyWriter.com, LegalZoom.com, BuildaWill.com and Nolo.com.

If your finances and family are all extremely straightforward, these can work, but if you do write a will on your own, hire a lawyer to check your efforts. Some of the products offer consultation with an attorney who will vet the resulting document.”

Paul Krugman on Twitter: “First, stocks and bonds. Here’s Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio and long-term bond rates. PE is high but not 2000 high; might make sense given low interest rates, although bond prices also a question. 2/… https://t.co/b7D2cpl4Ig”

Paul Krugman‏Verified account @paulkrugmanFollow Follow @paulkrugmanMoreFirst, stocks and bonds. Here’s Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio and long-term bond rates. PE is high but not 2000 high; might make sense given low interest rates, although bond prices also a question. 2/6:23 AM – 5 Feb 201886 Retweets

Making Sure Your Help Gets to Hurricane Harvey’s Victims – (Issues at the Red Cross) – NYT

“A 2015 investigation by ProPublica and NPR documented the Red Cross’s glaring failure to account for how it spent the $488 million it raised in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, including such basics as how many people were assisted and how much money was spent on overhead.”

The comments are helpful. There are endorsements for the Salvation Army, The Houston Food Bank, and religious relief organizations like the Episcopal Fund for Relief.

There is an endorsement for the United Way, and another comment criticizing it. Everyone agrees that we have to spend time at Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

At BlackRock- Machines Are Rising Over Managers to Pick Stocks – The New York Times

“Still, the monster in the mutual fund room by far has been Vanguard, which, via index funds and exchange-traded funds, has had historic inflows.Last year, for example, $423 billion left actively managed stock funds and $390 billion poured into index funds, according to Morningstar. Of that amount, Vanguard captured $277 billion, nearly tripling the amount that went to its nearest rival, BlackRock.”

Here is a colorful comment, which makes cents to me.

James Osborn

La Jolla, CA 51 minutes ago

Over 90% of fund managers do worse picking stocks than trained monkeys throwing their poop at a stock list. Hedge funds over the long term are getting killed by brainless index funds. And for this horrendously poor performance, these guys make millions a year? On top of that they still demand that their income (it’s just that because they don’t their own money on the line) be treated as capital gains? It’s the biggest theft of money in the history of the world. It’s no wonder that computers will take over their jobs. At least computers have a chance of doing as well, if not better than trained monkeys. Idiot fund managers and so-called investment bankers certainly can’t.

Buffett Asks Big Money: Why Pay High Fees? – The New York Times

““Much of the financial damage befell pension funds for public employees,” he wrote. “Many of these funds are woefully underfunded, in part because they have suffered a double whammy: poor investment performance accompanied by huge fees. The resulting shortfalls in their assets will for decades have to be made up by local taxpayers.”

For the past several years, Mr. Buffett has told anyone who will listen to avoid attempting to beat the stock market by investing in hedge funds or actively managed funds. Instead, he has counseled buying a low-cost S. & P. 500 index fund. (He has said he plans to advise the trustee of his estate after he dies to invest 90 percent of it in an S. & P. 500 index fund and the rest into government bonds on behalf of his wife.)

However, much of the biggest money in the nation hasn’t taken his advice and continues to pay enormous fees for underperformance.”

Profits Without Prosperity – by William Lazonick – Harvard Business Review

“Five years after the official end of the Great Recession, corporate profits are high, and the stock market is booming. Yet most Americans are not sharing in the recovery. While the top 0.1% of income recipients—which include most of the highest-ranking corporate executives—reap almost all the income gains, good jobs keep disappearing, and new employment opportunities tend to be insecure and underpaid. Corporate profitability is not translating into widespread economic prosperity.

The allocation of corporate profits to stock buybacks deserves much of the blame. Consider the 449 companies in the S&P 500 index that were publicly listed from 2003 through 2012. During that period those companies used 54% of their earnings—a total of $2.4 trillion—to buy back their own stock, almost all through purchases on the open market. Dividends absorbed an additional 37% of their earnings. That left very little for investments in productive capabilities or higher incomes for employees.”

Source: Profits Without Prosperity