Opinion

James Saft

The Fed discovers chicanery: James Saft

Feb 13, 2013 20:38 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Acknowledging that sometimes banks chisel clients and bank employees chisel banks may sound obvious to you, but for the Federal Reserve this is a pretty big step forward.

Jeremy Stein, a member of the Board of Governors of the Fed, gave a speech last week in which he said that sometimes it may be necessary for the fed to raise interest rates to control overheating in credit markets.

While a lot was made about him being Wall Street’s new bubble cop, I’d argue that actually the big step here was that he specifically and convincingly argued that you can’t understand markets without understanding the way participants game the system to their own advantage.

This is a huge change from the old Greenspan – and Bernanke – assumption, which was that the market was self-policing; that fear of the commercial consequences of bad actions would serve as an effective brake on fraud and abuse.

That naïve view allowed the Fed to assume that markets would behave predictably and rationally. It helped to set the intellectual underpinnings that led to too-easy rates, further easings when things went bad and the rolling series of bubbles and panics we’ve seen over the last decade and a half.

Japan confuses appearance and reality: James Saft

Feb 12, 2013 19:59 UTC

Feb 12 (Reuters) – A government which sees its role as
driving stock market rallies is one suffering sad confusion
about the difference between appearance and reality.

Japan’s economy minister, Akira Amari, said on Saturday the
government will increase economic efforts in order to drive
Tokyo’s Nikkei index up another 17 percent by the end of March.

“It will be important to show our mettle and see the Nikkei
reach the 13,000 mark by the end of the fiscal year,” he was
quoted by Japan Times as saying in a speech. Japan’s fiscal year
ends March 31. “We want to continue taking steps to help stock
prices rise.”

Rethinking the 4 percent rule

Feb 7, 2013 21:06 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – In a world of low structural investment returns retirees need to reconsider the assumption that they can draw down 4 percent a year of their savings.

Known as the 4 percent rule, this popular guideline is running smack into what looks to be an extended period of low returns in stocks and bonds.

Obviously, this is important not just for retirees, who may have little choice but to cut back on consumption, but for savers too, who will need to save more or work longer to safely meet their targets. It equally applies to foundations and endowments, which struggle with how much they can fund and still keep contributing in perpetuity.

SAFT ON WEALTH: Rethinking the 4 percent rule

Feb 7, 2013 21:05 UTC

Feb 7 (Reuters) – In a world of low structural investment
returns retirees need to reconsider the assumption that they can
draw down 4 percent a year of their savings.

Known as the 4 percent rule, this popular guideline is
running smack into what looks to be an extended period of low
returns in stocks and bonds.

Obviously, this is important not just for retirees, who may
have little choice but to cut back on consumption, but for
savers too, who will need to save more or work longer to safely
meet their targets. It equally applies to foundations and
endowments, which struggle with how much they can fund and still
keep contributing in perpetuity.

They are playing the Chuck Prince Waltz: James Saft

Feb 6, 2013 21:34 UTC

Feb 6 (Reuters) – The music is playing again and the
pressure for investors to get out on the dance floor is, like in
2007, intense.

By most measures financial conditions are as easy, as
relaxed, as at any time since the summer of 2007, meaning that
markets and investors simply aren’t demanding that much
compensation for taking on risk.

That does not in and of itself mean that a rout is coming,
nor does it mean that the rally can’t continue, but it does
imply we should be very cautious about the returns we’ll get
from here.

A costly but worthy Dutch treat: James Saft

Feb 5, 2013 19:59 UTC

Feb 5 (Reuters) – The Netherlands’ nationalization of bank
SNS Reaal underlines the euro zone’s weak spots while
illustrating the dangers of its plans to address them.

In wiping out SNS shareholders and some bond holders the
Dutch government is trying to do the right thing, can’t quite
bring itself to go that far, and may end up paying the price
anyway.

The Netherlands last week seized control of SNS, its
fourth-largest financial services firm, in a $14 billion rescue,
employing powers granted it under a new law passed last year.
While senior bondholders and depositors were sheltered, the
stakes of equity holders and subordinated bondholders were
effectively expropriated.

SAFT ON WEALTH: About that cash flowing into equities

Jan 31, 2013 20:56 UTC

Jan 31 (Reuters) – It looks like the central bankers are
winning: cash is being put back to work.

Equities are having, by some measures, their best January in
more than a decade. Signs point to cash coming off of the
sidelines as an important supporting factor. Global stocks are
up almost 5 percent for the month and the Standard & Poor’s 500
Index is on track for its best January since 1997.

Meanwhile, flows of money into equity funds and ETFs have
been strong, while cash has drained out of major banks and money
market accounts.

A badly timed euro zone tightening: James Saft

Jan 30, 2013 20:54 UTC

Jan 30 (Reuters) – A bank-led credit crunch, a newly strong
euro and the shrinking of the European Central Bank’s balance
sheet are tightening conditions in the euro zone at just the
wrong time.

This should heighten pressure on the ECB to cut rates or
take other measures when it meets next week. Just don’t count on
the central bank doing much.

A confluence of forces, some positive, are combining to
effectively tighten financial conditions in the euro zone, even
as the continent struggles with unemployment and recession.

Risk-on, risk-off may be ending: James Saft

Jan 29, 2013 13:05 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The after-effects of the Great Crisis may still be with us, but the great correlation in global financial markets may be coming to an end.

After years of seemingly disparate markets all going up or down in concert, recent weeks have shown signs of assets actually trading on their own merits. If sustained, this would be an important sign not just of a return to normality in financial markets, but that investors see a more stable world.

Then again, it might be a giant head-fake.

Sometimes called “risk-on, risk-off”, or Ro-Ro, this has been the dominant trade since the financial crisis broke, with commodities, stocks and especially currencies moving very tightly together in predictable ways, mostly driven by major economic news and global events.

It’s not Apple’s fault, it’s ours

Jan 24, 2013 20:35 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The problem, investors, lies not in Apple but in ourselves.

Apple’s disappointing earnings report and its subsequent 10 percent-plus stock market fall on Thursday are a timely reminder that there are a lot of idiots out there.

The issue – and your source of risk as an investor – isn’t just Apple, but rather the panting hoard of trend following investors who drove its stock price so far above a reasonable valuation.

Apple is a great company making great products, and has an outstanding record of creating new markets. It enjoys margins closer to those of a software company than a consumer giant, has more than $130 billion in cash and a historically unique franchise, one it has been able to expand time and again.

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