Chair Yellen is no Joe Namath

All I’m going to say is the Fed chair Yellen is no Joe Namath.

On Wednesday in a speech the Fed head said, “Will I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? No, probably that would be going too far. But I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will.”

Namath guaranteed the New York Jets would win Super Bowl III and backed it up.

Yellen, who seems to be on the path of bursting asset bubbles with a credit-busting, rate-raising strategy, also said, “asset valuations are somewhat rich if you use some traditional metrics like price earnings ratios, but I wouldn’t try to comment on appropriate valuations, and those ratios ought to depend on long-term interest rates.”

Even if you discount the 2.5% drop in Google yesterday on the huge European regulator’s $2.7 billion fine for skewing its search results, stocks sold off hard on her comments.

Now I’m not one to pandered to ageism, however at 70 years old, Chair Yellen has a different time horizon than the rest of us.

But if the Fed thinks it can burst stocks, art and home asset bubbles by constricting credit in a low inflation environment, then Yellen & Co are looking at a possible deflationary crisis, which they have little in their toolbox to combat.

One can think that the Fed can always lower rates again and expand its balance sheet to fight deflation, but that’s just continuing the boom/bust cycles.

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FAANGs are the teeth for 2017 returns

As we begin the second half of 2017 astronomically , let’s look how the stock markets did so far.

  • The Dow Jones industrial average is up 8.3%.
  • The S&P 500 rose 8.7%
  • The Nasdaq soared 15.9%

On the backs of FAANG stocks, the tech index is a very crowded trade. The ironic part of the gains in Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google is held by “hedge funds” and foreign central banks.

  • Facebook: +33%
  • Apple: +25.7%
  • Amazon: +33.5%
  • Netflix: +25.1%
  • Google: +23.2%

Certainly there are losers in the tech sector during this run up in prices. Twitter and Snap are two of the once promising darlings that failed to attract investor interest.

Now why would hedgies be in these stocks, unless the hedge is not to show negative returns on their other bets.

As a point of comparison bitcoin is up roughly 64% for the first half of 2017.

Many market pros are saying this could be the top for these stocks. That makes sense from the strong first half returns, but my question is if this is true, then where will capital go to find the next crowded trade? Because that’s where you make money.

Ethereum exchanges need to right flash crash losses

The cryptocurrency market suffered a major flash crash on Wednesday losing 96% in value in 10 seconds, before bouncing back.

Ethereum — which is a derivative off of bitcoin — plunged from $315 to $0.10 on massive volume created by a deluge of stop-loss orders and margin squeezes.

A stop-loss order is a trade that is executed automatically once a security – in this case ethereum – hits a particular price.

Again as I wrote earlier, the culprit in the crash is the exchanges, which could not correctly process a large sell order. Of course the exchange alleges that there could be market manipulation behind the crash, due to a large sell order.

Adam White, the vice president of GDAX which is an exchange run by Coinbase, posted on the firm’s blog, outlining what took place at around 12:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday. According to White, the multimillion dollar market sell order resulted in a number of orders being filled from $317.81 to $224.48.

“Our initial investigations show no indication of wrongdoing or account takeovers. We understand this event can be frustrating for our customers. Our matching engine operated as intended throughout this event and trading with advanced features like margin always carries inherent risk,” White said in a blog post.

“We are continuing to conduct a thorough investigation and will keep customers updated with any resulting actions.”

Some investors point the  initial coin offering (ICO) demand on Ethereum to a funding launch for an ethereum-based messaging app called Status which took plenty of processing power off of the network.

Message boards point to Ethereum buy orders at $0.10, which were fulfilled and as the price soared back to $300, made millions on the crash.

When stock exchanges flash crashed in May 2010, trades such as the one above were cancelled. It is still unclear what will happen to crypto investors who had their Ethereum was sold for pennies on the dollar, due to stop-loss orders that were executed at far lower levels than the contract specified.

Ethereum is trading at $328 Thursday morning.

 

Don’t hail Uber for its Kalanick ouster, it took too long

Travis Kalanick, the embattled bad boy founder of Uber resigned late Tuesday night, ending three years of questionable actions at the ride-sharing company.

My colleague at The New York Post, Jonathon Trugman wrote on Sunday:

When the board finally got around to getting a handle on the matter, one of its members, private equity giant David Bonderman, ended up having to step down after making a sexist slur about female board members.

For starters, one needs to understand the incestuous relationship between Silicon Valley’s boards and their company’s executives.

Generally speaking, there are two currencies used to get a board seat at many prominent Silicon Valley companies: money, and the credibility lent by fame. Most board members of tech firms are the executives, along with early stage investors. That’s how TPG co-founder Bonderman found himself in the hot seat.

Well it looks like the Uber board of directors finally acted by asking Kalanick to step down, according to reports. One wonders though if the did for the right reasons.

You see the private shares of Uber have taken a hit over the last month or so as news of the booze-filled company trips and sexual harassment as charges have dripped out from a report by former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s report.

As Trugman said, the board members are early investors with a huge stake in the company, so was it out of respect for common decency or a need to bolster creditability and a flagging share price that brought the board to its senses?

Here is a somewhat complete list of the Uber woes over the last few months as composed by Zero Hedge:

  1. Another tale of sexism and unacceptable workplace behavior in Silicon Valley company has emerged. This time it’s at Uber, according to an explosive blog post published on Sunday by a former company engineer named Susan Fowler Riggetti.
  2. Uber’s newly hired VP of engineering Amit Singhal was asked to, and did, resign on Monday after the company learned from Recode that he was accused of sexual harassment shortly before leaving Google a year ago. Here’s more on the difficult position of former employers in this case.
  3. A video showing Uber CEO Travis Kalanick rudely arguing with a long-time driver at the end of his ride was published by Bloomberg. “I need leadership help,” Kalanick said in an apology he issued shortly after.
  4. Susan Fowler Rigetti, the former Uber engineer who wrote of discrimination, said she’s hired attorneys after a new law firm began to investigate her claims. Uber confirmed it has hired Perkins Coie, which reports to former A.G. Eric Holder, who’s leading the investigation.
  5. Uber said on Thursday that it will finally apply for a DMV permit to test self-driving cars in California after its cars’ registrations were revoked in December because it refused to get the permit.
  6. Charlie Miller, one of the two famous car hackers who joined Uber’s Advanced Technology Center in August 2015, announced he’s leaving the company.
  7. The New York Times uncovered a secret Uber program called Greyball, through which the company uses software and data to evade law enforcement in cities.
  8. Keala Lusk, a former Uber engineer, published a blog post detailing how her female manager mistreated her, signaling that the company’s problematic culture isn’t limited to the men who work there.
  9. Ed Baker, Uber’s head of product and growth, resigned. Though the reason is unclear, he was allegedly seen kissing another employee three years ago, which was anonymously communicated to board member Arianna Huffington, according to Recode.
  10. A report outlines a trip by a group of Uber employees to a Seoul karaoke-escort bar in 2014, which included company CEO Travis Kalanick and his girlfriend, Gabi Holzwarth. After arriving, several male employees picked escorts to sit with, and went to sing karaoke. Uncomfortable, a female marketing manager, who was part of the group, left after a couple of minutes, while Holzwarth and Kalanick left after an hour.
  11. California regulators have recommended that Uber be fined $1.13 million for failing to investigate and/or suspend drivers who are reported by a passenger to be intoxicated. The state requires ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  12. A new report says Uber used a secret program dubbed “Hell’ to track Lyft drivers to see if they were driving for both ride-hailing services and otherwise stifle competition. Only a small group of Uber employees, including CEO Travis Kalanick, knew about the program, according to a story in The Information, which was based on an anonymous source who was not authorized to speak publicly.
  13. Waymo sued Uber in civil court, claiming that Uber was using trade secrets stolen from Google to develop Uber’s self-driving vehicles.
  14. Uber fires Anthony Levandowski, a star engineer brought in to lead the company’s self-driving automobile efforts who was accused of stealing trade secrets when he left a job at Google.
  15. Uber said Tuesday that it had made a mistake in the way it calculated its commissions, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to its New York drivers, and the company vowed to correct the practice and make the drivers whole for the lost earnings.
  16. Uber fires over 20 staff following the release of a report about sexual harassment in the workplace.
  17. Reports emerge that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick fired off a bizarre email in 2013 to hundreds of employees where he listed the conditions under which they could have sex with each other at a company outing in Miami,

So I did not come to hail Uber, but to question the board’s motives again.

Markets ignore Euphrates line in the sand

This will be a brief posting today, since I have to remove a large tree limb that came down on my wife’s art studio during Monday’s storm.

As I wrote yesterday, the markets are immune to a sell off despite global events. Monday’s development in the Middle East.

Humans are said to have developed in the Euphrates Valley, well this week we could see the ramping up of our demise in the same region as US-Russian warplanes may be having dog fights over the Crescent of Civilization.

Given this difficult situation where the Pentagon came out and said that US fighters will defend the airspace against all hostile actors, equity markets hit new highs, the VIX, or fear index, almost had a 9-handle and bonds are at very low yields. It’s too strange to be true.

Look no further than the price of crude. At $44 a barrel there is no premium being paid for the unrest in the Gulf Oil states as well as Middle East.

I’ll have more on this as I dig further, but there’s a limb that needs to be removed from the roof.