The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Return to the Future . . . I hope not!

03/01/2010

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!

1+1=0

02/23/2010

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

02/19/2010

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….?

02/11/2010

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…?

02/07/2010

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…?

02/06/2010

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

02/05/2010

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…?

01/31/2010

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?

01/29/2010

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??

01/25/2010

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

01/21/2010

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?

01/05/2010

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?

Here Comes Santa Claus…???

12/25/2009

Today, on Christmas Eve, the market set a new high for the year. That is always good news, even if it is still down 25% from its high two years ago. Often called a “Santa Claus Rally” (SCR), the market is usually good this time of year and extends through the first two trading days … Continue reading Here Comes Santa Claus…???

Golden Vices???

12/16/2009

For many years, I managed the portfolio for a wonderful gentleman in Williamsburg, who died a few years ago at the age 99. He was a great guy, and I miss him. Coincidently, his son-in-law was Morgan Stanley’s legendary investment strategist, Barton Biggs, whom I have followed closely over the years and have read both … Continue reading Golden Vices???

Farewell to Arms…………

12/15/2009

Long-time readers know that I have proudly served for many years on the certification committee of a prestigious national investment association. For a number of reasons, we recently began making the examination process more difficult, which was fine. But, we became increasingly technical, finding a formula for every question. I recall Warren Buffett saying “Don’t … Continue reading Farewell to Arms…………

Dr. Bernanke: STAT

11/21/2009

While data about our economic health has been improving rather consistently since the Crash of 2008, I’ve become very concerned that the patient might suffer an unexpected heart attack. The problem now is the same as the problem then. We still have not figured out how to intelligently regulate derivatives, which Warren Buffett described as … Continue reading Dr. Bernanke: STAT

Why did we send in the clowns?

11/14/2009

Late last year, a client wisely predicted that China would emerge from the crisis before the U.S. His reasoning was interesting. He thought that great problems require great decisions, but that the U.S cannot make great decisions like China, which is governed by engineers, while the U.S. is governed by lawyers. I’ve thought about this … Continue reading Why did we send in the clowns?

But, what is the recipe?

11/12/2009

Today, I listened to one of my favorite thought leaders, John Mauldin of Dallas, author of Bull’s Eye Investing. He spoke of the difficult state of the U.S. economy and the few but painful choices we have: 1. The Argentine Solution – induce hyper-inflation to “inflate away” the huge indebtedness of our country. He gave … Continue reading But, what is the recipe?

Below Thursday’s Headline

10/31/2009

Thursday’s big 200 point rally of the Dow was ignited by the surprisingly strong GDP report for the third quarter. It was a healthy 3.5%, which was substantially stronger than the 3.2% that was widely expected. Of course, when the market realized that number was “juiced-up “on steroids from the stimulus, the market dropped almost … Continue reading Below Thursday’s Headline

Finally….Real Progress

10/20/2009

During the 1990s, our trade deficit averaged about 2% of GDP but started rising in 2000. In December of 2006, I wrote this was not sustainable and possibly dangerous, as it approached 5% of GDP. The latest figures show it has decreased to only 3% of GDP and hopefully still dropping. One reason is the … Continue reading Finally….Real Progress

Sobering Reminder

10/03/2009

That’s how the President referred to yesterday’s unemployment release that another 263 thousand Americans lost their jobs. Since the recession began in December of 2007, over 7.2 million people have lost their jobs. Even 54 thousand government jobs disappeared last month! And, we are many months away from any good news. Unemployment improves only after … Continue reading Sobering Reminder

Take a side!

09/08/2009

Economists and securities analysts usually work together well. Sometimes, when they do disagree, it is more apparent than real. The current disagreement is such a case. Economists remain glum, while analysts are giddy. Why? Because U.S. economists have a consensus forecast of a 2.4% growth rate next year, while analysts expect earnings of the S&P … Continue reading Take a side!

Re-appointment of Ben Bernanke

08/26/2009

Yesterday’s re-appointment of Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve System was wise a decision! Sure, he was slow recognizing the subprime problem, but he showed true innovative genius once he engaged. Although there is never any way to prove it, I am confident he prevented the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression! … Continue reading Re-appointment of Ben Bernanke

Clap…clap…clap…

08/19/2009

Was I the only person applauding Monday when the Dow dropped 186 points? It blew a little froth off the market, which is a good thing! There is a loose but direct relationship between the financial markets and the overall economy. The Conventional Wisdom is this: if the economy improves, the market usually senses this … Continue reading Clap…clap…clap…

Linearism

08/16/2009

I just finished reading The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It makes the point that generations have a predictable flow, starting with growth (the prophets) followed by maturation (the nomads) and then entropy (the heroes) and finally destruction (the artists). The World War II generation could not have foreseen that “America would … Continue reading Linearism

The Feast Continues…thankfully!

08/13/2009

I attended a meeting yesterday and listened to the fear some investors have of China, particularly its ability to crush the dollar by dumping all their dollar-denominated holdings, such as US Treasuries. Their angst is understandable but misplaced. Dumping the Treasuries would create huge losses for themselves and risks sending the world, including themselves, into … Continue reading The Feast Continues…thankfully!

Canary in a Coal Mine??

08/12/2009

Nassim Taleb is the brilliant author of the “Black Swan”, which described how huge, unpredictable events occur, such as the current market collapse. This morning, he said the current Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, has performed poorly and should not be re-appointed when his tenure as Fed Chair expires in January. A survey of … Continue reading Canary in a Coal Mine??

No Champagne Yet!

08/11/2009

Friday’s jobs report was great . . . or the headline was great, that unemployment dropped from 9.5% to 9.4%. Also, over 700 thousand workers were losing their jobs in January, compared to “only” 244 thousand last month. Still, how can the rate of unemployment decrease when 244 thousand workers lost their jobs?? Simply, hundreds … Continue reading No Champagne Yet!

20/20 Hindsight

07/19/2009

Last week, I watched as Hank Paulson was grilled by legislators about his actions last year as Treasury Secretary during the most frightening part of the Crash. Red-faced and obviously uncomfortable, it was clear he did not want to be there. I actually felt sorry for him. He was thrust into an unforeseen crisis last … Continue reading 20/20 Hindsight

Madoff Justice

06/30/2009

Longtime readers know my belief that our society is over-regulated and under-punished. Convicted swindler, Bernie Madoff, got off easy at 150 years. Assuming this 71-year-old man actually lives another 150 years, it means he will have to spend only a few seconds in jail for each dollar stolen and only 40 days for each victim … Continue reading Madoff Justice

Change is coming…….

06/23/2009

It was obvious last September when the markets crashed, following the Lehman failure. It became certain last December with the arrest of Madoff. There will be a re-regulation of the securities markets, which is desperately needed. Of course, “the devil is always in the details”! Last week, the Obama Administration introduced their plan for re-regulation. … Continue reading Change is coming…….

The Wisdom of Crowds?

06/03/2009

All year, I’ve been advising clients that the economy would “bottom-out” in the fourth quarter. Last week, the latest survey of the National Association of Business Economics (NABE) showed that 90% of economists believe the bottom will be late this year. (As a member, I naturally participated in that survey.) Maybe, I should feel comforted … Continue reading The Wisdom of Crowds?

The Problem with Averages

05/21/2009

I was reading a marketing piece from one of the mass market financial advisors. His argument was that since the average recession since the Great Depression has been 21 months and since the stock market has been up an average of 45% twelve months later and since this recession is now officially 19 months old, … Continue reading The Problem with Averages

A Sainted Businessman

05/15/2009

In the early 1990s, I was appointed by the Governor of Texas to the State Depository Board, where I served with the State Treasurer, State Banking Commissioner, and State Controller. We wrestled with the collapsing Texas Savings & Loan Associations, which had wrecked the Texas economy so badly. I was there when the legendary Bill … Continue reading A Sainted Businessman

The Un-Stressful Stress Test

05/12/2009

After all the stressful suspense, the “Stress Test” results were released last Thursday, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Still, there are two lingering issues. First, the assumptions were 10.3% unemployment, GDP dropping 3.3% in 2009 and rising 0.5% next year, and home prices falling another 27%. I’ll be surprised if unemployment doesn’t … Continue reading The Un-Stressful Stress Test

Maybe Bernanke Is Right?

04/14/2009

Today, I watched a speech by Ben Bernanke discussing the cause of the current Great Recession. For several years, he has been warning about the “savings glut”, i.e., those nations like China who run huge cash surpluses and lend the cash back to the consuming nations, effectively pushing up debt levels in our national economy. … Continue reading Maybe Bernanke Is Right?

Back To The Future

04/10/2009

Yesterday we learned the U.S. trade deficit decreased unexpectedly. The surprise was not that imports fell for the seventh consecutive month, but that exports actually rose for the first time in six months, despite the strong dollar. Our trade deficit in 2006 was $681 billion compared with an estimate of only $373 billion this year. … Continue reading Back To The Future

A Greater Wrong

03/20/2009

While I am as disgusted as all those pontificating politicians about the AIG bonus issue, there is a greater issue than this additional instance of unfairness, and that is the sanctity of contracts. While contracts can be set aside for a few narrow reasons, this is not one of them. Even worse, over-turning these contracts … Continue reading A Greater Wrong

Our future leaders are impressive

03/16/2009

Last week, I spoke before 750 people for Virginia Beach’s annual “State of the City” address. It was a piece of cake! I also spoke before the 24 brightest high school seniors in Virginia Beach, who are competing for a large scholarship. That was intimidating! These kids are so bright. They asked questions about the … Continue reading Our future leaders are impressive

Jobs Report reflects long year ahead

03/08/2009

A year ago, I predicted unemployment would reach nine percent. On Friday morning, the Labor Department released the monthly “Jobs Report,” showing unemployment had already reached 8.1 percent, the worst in 26 years. If you add in the under-employed, those people who are forced to work part-time or who have given up, 14.8 percent of … Continue reading Jobs Report reflects long year ahead

Economics is not a religion

03/01/2009

Sitting at a traffic light yesterday, listening to Rush Limbaugh’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, I saw pick-up trucks go by, helpful for small cargoes. I saw 18-wheelers go by, helpful for large cargoes. I saw cement trucks, refrigerated trucks, and even a fire engine — all helpful tools for specialized missions. Some … Continue reading Economics is not a religion

Job loss mounts worldwide

02/06/2009

The Jobs Report this morning showed another 598,000 Americans lost their jobs, the most in 35 years. The unemployment rate jumped from 7.2% to 7.6%. Totally heart-breaking! Don’t look for foreclosures to slow down . . . So far in this recession, 3.5 million of us have lost our jobs. But, that pales in comparison … Continue reading Job loss mounts worldwide

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