The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

50 Safest Banks


Each year, the highly respected Global Finance magazine publishes its list of the 50 Safest Banks in the world, and the 2010 list came out today. The highest rated U.S. bank was JP Morgan at #39. Wells Fargo was only #42. Only two U.S. banks made the Top Fifty. Bank of America was a pitiful … Continue reading 50 Safest Banks

“China, Inc.”


In anticipation of my upcoming trip to China, a good friend & client graciously loaned me her copy of “China, Inc. “How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World” by Ted C. Fishman. Although published in 2006, it is still required reading for serious geo-political observers. Alternating between history and travelogue, … Continue reading “China, Inc.”

Totally Unscientific . . .


One of the daily jobs of a financial advisor is to check on stocks that have been either up-graded or down-graded by the nerdy analysts. Normally, there are more downgrades than upgrades when the economy is weakening, but that is definitely not the case now. I’m seeing probably 5 upgrades for every downgrade, which indicates … Continue reading Totally Unscientific . . .

Summer Doldrums?


August is normally one of the best months for The Market, while September is normally one of the worst. Conventional wisdom is that most traders are on vacation during August but thinking about their portfolios. When they get back to work, they start selling to re-position their portfolios, which triggers the “September Slump”. But, that … Continue reading Summer Doldrums?

“Real” Stimulus


Last year, Congress approved a stimulus package of $787 billion. Since Q2 of last year through June 30th of this year, profits of the S&P 500 have risen 52%. Productivity has soared to 3.5%, compared to 1.6% in 2007 and only 1% the next year. Still, the private sector has added only 630,000 jobs this … Continue reading “Real” Stimulus

The Eye of the Hurricane?


I have long been a fan of Nouriel Roubini, a highly regarded economist more commonly known as “Dr. Doom”, for having predicted The Great Recession back in 2006. He has teamed up Stephen Mihm to author the new “Crisis Economics”, which I just completed. It is not a book for the casual reader, nor the … Continue reading The Eye of the Hurricane?

The Devil in the Details


I was enthusiastic about the $787 billion stimulus bill approved by Congress last year. Obviously, infrastructure development was necessary — with or without an anemic economy to stimulate. Infrastruture is a real investment in the future that increases demand in the short run and pays for itself in the long run. Unfortunately, of that amount, … Continue reading The Devil in the Details

One Step Forward but . . .


Yesterday, the Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose modestly in July. That’s a step forward! At the same time, the Philadelphia Fed said manufacturing fell in the mid-Atlantic region to the lowest level in a year. Even worse, the weekly unemployment claims rose unexpectedly to a nine month high. That’s two … Continue reading One Step Forward but . . .

On The Bubble?


Back in 1973, when I first walked into a stock brokerage office, I saw old men watching a ticker tape cross the wall behind a black & white television. They were “stock guys”, who bet on the American economy. They made fun of the “coupon clippers”, whom they derided as being cowardly, but we call … Continue reading On The Bubble?

Where’s the beef?


No question, deflation is a much worse problem than inflation. Once people think they can buy things cheaper if they wait, then they stop spending now. At one time, economists believed deflation could easily be eliminated by doing the things that cause inflation, i.e., increasing the money supply and increasing deficit spending. Ben Bernanke was … Continue reading Where’s the beef?

. . . and, the Fed said what??


Today, the Fed left interest rates unchanged, which was no surprise and certainly no big deal. However, they also said they would stop shrinking their balance sheet, by using the mortgage paydowns they’ve been receiving to buy more Treasury bonds. When that happened, the dollar dropped suddenly. The reason this happened is because the increased … Continue reading . . . and, the Fed said what??

The Paradox of Thrift . . . huh?


The good news is that consumers are now saving 6.4% of their after-tax income. The bad news is that consumers are saving 6.4% of their after-tax income! Because most Americans have too much debt, it is good to see them saving more. It is good for them as individuals. However, consumer spending makes up about … Continue reading The Paradox of Thrift . . . huh?

Is It Party-Time Yet ??


For July, the markets were up about 7%. Yesterday, on the first trading day of the month, the markets were up another 2%. While that is always pleasant, longtime readers will recall I expect we should trade in a band between 1050 and 1150 on the S&P for most of the year, but with real … Continue reading Is It Party-Time Yet ??

Same Conclusion for Different Reasons


Readers know I have been avoiding financial stocks all year. However, when great portfolio managers, like Bruce Berkowitz of the Fairholme Fund, argue just that financial stocks are great buys, one naturally has to wonder. The International Monetary just issued a report that our financial system indeed remains very vulnerable to another crisis (1) because … Continue reading Same Conclusion for Different Reasons

The Persistence of Deflation


Tom Brokaw is the famed longtime anchor of NBC News and serious chronicler of generations. His recent study of the Baby Boomers found the belief common to most Boomers was that “things” would always get better, an undying sense of optimism. As a Boomer myself, I plead guilty! That’s why it is so important to … Continue reading The Persistence of Deflation

Financial Re-Regulation . . . FAQ


Q. Is it over?A. The bill has passed and will become law. However, any bill this important will require many months and years of regulatory implementation. As always, the “devil will be in the details”. Q. Is this a disaster for banking U.S. system?A. No, but it will require some change and increase compliance costs. … Continue reading Financial Re-Regulation . . . FAQ

Pat . . . pat . . . pat . . .


That’s the sound of me patting myself on the back. Tuesday, the Fed changed their position, saying the economy was weaker than they earlier expected and that it could take 5-6 years for the economy to fully recover. Long time readers know I have been expecting a Nike Swoosh type of recovery, not V-shaped, nor … Continue reading Pat . . . pat . . . pat . . .

Guns versus Butter…Not Really


Recently, there has been considerable debate within the economic community about the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some argue the cost should only include the money appropriated by Congress, which is a little over $1 trillion. (See Others argue you should include the continuing cost of veterans’ care over their lifetimes … Continue reading Guns versus Butter…Not Really

Recent Inside Business Column


To read my latest column for Inside Business, click here

The End is Near……Not


Earlier this month, a market analyst named Robert Prechter predicted the Dow would fall about 90% over the next six years, from about 10,000 to only 1,000. He is better known as one of the few surviving apostles of the “Elliott Wave Theory”, first developed by Ralph Nelson Elliott in 1939 but popularized by Prechter … Continue reading The End is Near……Not

When Economists Divorce . . .


We were watching a debate on TV between a Tea Party economist and a more traditional Republican one. They were feuding over whether or not the Austrian economics of the Tea Party was better than the Supply-side economics of the Republican Party. Renee remarked they sounded less like economists debating and more like a husband … Continue reading When Economists Divorce . . .

Deja Vu….?.


The scientific term for the stock market during May was . . . lousy. The S&P was down 8.2%, the worst month of May since 1940, when it dropped over 20%. Of course, it was reminiscent of September in 2008, following the collapse of Lehman, there are differences. The U.S. economy is now rebounding nicely. … Continue reading Deja Vu….?.

A Historical Perspective


So, just how great was The Great Recession? Take a look at this table from Independent Strategy Group (in billions of dollars): My father is a World War II veteran, who landed on Omaha Beach in France. It was the defining experience of his life, which he re-lives every day of his life. Yet, separating … Continue reading A Historical Perspective

The Myth of a Level Playing Field


Nobody likes to think the odds are stacked against them unfairly. As long as man is either greedy or simply competitive, people will look for an advantage, fair or unfair. Newspapers routinely report on businessmen being indicted for one reason or another. No business is untouched, from developers, realtors, lenders, or even lawyers. As a … Continue reading The Myth of a Level Playing Field

A Day for the History Books!


What a ride! At one point this afternoon, the Dow was down almost a thousand points. The plunge was sudden, dramatic and scary. Such a price plunge could not be attributed to the fear of Greek contagion, nor the uncertainty of the national election in England and a regional election in Germany this Sunday. At … Continue reading A Day for the History Books!

Looking in the TIPS Jar


TIPS are Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. They are issued by the U.S. Treasury and have the “full faith and credit” of the United States government. Of all bonds issued by the Treasury for any given maturity, TIPS pay the lowest interest rate, because they are “inflation-protected”, which means they pay extra to keep the purchasing … Continue reading Looking in the TIPS Jar

Disco Diva on Financial Regulation


Today, I watched the President when he visited Wall Street to discuss his pending re-regulation of financial services. Some pundits called it his “closing argument”. Maybe, it was. I don’t know. However, it was certainly not the scolding many of us expected. In his campaign, he said there is no Red America nor Blue America, … Continue reading Disco Diva on Financial Regulation

Enron Redux?


Years ago, I was lucky not to have been one of the many investors who lost money in the Enron debacle. About a year before their fall, Enron got into trouble with the State of California about electricity rates. It quickly became apparent that the people at Enron enjoyed a very high opinion of their … Continue reading Enron Redux?

Beware: Danger


The most dangerous words on Wall Street are “It’s different this time”. Take a look at this chart of the long-term unemployed, which is 27 weeks or more, as a percent of the total unemployed. Almost 45% of the unemployed have been out-of-work over six months, which is the highest percentage since the government began … Continue reading Beware: Danger

Current Currency Thoughts


In my last column for Inside Business, I commented that the fear of the dollar losing its status as the world’s reserve currency was over-blown. This worried a number of readers. If this loss does occur, it will not happen for many years. In the meantime, we need to remember that responsibility comes along with … Continue reading Current Currency Thoughts

Return to the Future . . . I hope not!


Today, the Commerce Department reported that consumer spending in January increased for the fourth straight month and increased by more than expected. They also announced that the December increase was greater than earlier reported. Unfortunately, spending increased five times as fast as personal income increased, which only increased about one-fourth of what was expected. Hopefully, … Continue reading Return to the Future . . . I hope not!



The Conference Board issued the Consumer Confidence Index this morning, which dropped from 56 to 46, the lowest in ten months and the biggest one-month drop in history, even larger than after 9-11. There have been grumblings about their methodology for many years, but today’s reading is so un-realistic that I feel safe in dismissing … Continue reading 1+1=0

A Shot Over the Bow


Last Wednesday, during the snowstorm that shut down Washington, something odd happened. Even though the testimony of Fed Chief Ben Bernanke was cancelled, the Fed still released his planned comments anyway, which laid out their tentative plans to remove stimulus from the economy, beginning with an increase in the discount rate. This Thursday, the Fed, … Continue reading A Shot Over the Bow

A Tiger Changes His Stripes….?


Dr. Nouriel Roubini is widely known as “Dr. Doom” after being the lonely voice predicting the Great Recession. Today, he actually found reason to be optimistic, i.e., the return to growth in global trade. In 2008, global trade grew 3%. In 2009, it actually contracted by 13%, the first contraction in 27 years. Today, he … Continue reading A Tiger Changes His Stripes….?

Pearls of Wisdom…?


Thinking back on President Clinton and President Bush sitting together as friends to discuss lessons learned in life, there are two observations that stick in my mind. First, President Clinton said that, as he aged, it becomes increasingly important to talk with others long enough to find something they agree about. Of course, it is … Continue reading Pearls of Wisdom…?

Chest Pains…?


Some analysts worry about a double-dip recession. While I am not worried about that, I do worry the economy will suffer a “heart attack”, which usually comes from the world of finance. For the last 10 days, the world markets have worried about sovereign debt. This is definitely a chest pain and should not be … Continue reading Chest Pains…?

Remenbering Civility


I try to use this blog to discuss economic events and changes in the investment climate, hopefully in an understandable way, preferably with a touch of whimsy. I assiduously avoid talking of personalities, with the recent discussion of Bernanke being an exception. But, I cannot resist this opportunity. Long time readers know my greatest fear … Continue reading Remenbering Civility

Prepare for Boredom…?


Wall Street attaches some significance to the “January Effect”, which basically says that January predicts the whole year. In fact, when the market is up in January, it is usually up 10.4% for the whole year. If it is down in January, the year is essentially flat. January 2010 was down 2.9%, suggesting a flat … Continue reading Prepare for Boredom…?

Successful Rehab?


Today’s announcement that the GDP grew at 5.7% was clearly good news. In addition, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index jumped from 58.7 in December to 61.5 in January. If that wasn’t enough, consumer sentiment increased from 72.8 in December to 74.4 in January. What a great day! OK, celebration over . . . the question … Continue reading Successful Rehab?

A Thousand Points??


CNBC super-star Jim Cramer said the loss of either Fed Head Ben Bernanke or Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner could cause the Dow to immediately drop a thousand points. If either happened un-expectedly, Cramer might be right, but I doubt either will happen. Ben Bernanke is clearly guilty of not seeing the recession coming, but very … Continue reading A Thousand Points??

More Form Than Substance


The Tea Party demonstrators were livid at the big banks, especially when the taxpayers had to bail them out. It is fair to say that profits were privatized, while losses were socialized. This means the banks and their shareholders got to keep the profits, while the taxpayers got to pay for their losses. Their anger … Continue reading More Form Than Substance

Good News = Bad News?


Hyman Minsky was an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He pointed out the credit availability is cyclical, i.e., that credit will expand until it bursts. In other words, credit doesn’t slowly deflate or get paid down. It bursts! Describing the 1998 financial crisis that began in Russia and ended with the collapse … Continue reading Good News = Bad News?


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