Shane's Feed
Jul 23, 2014
via Counterparties

Short Herbalife

The Herbalife saga continues. Yesterday, Bill Ackman made what he claimed would be the most important presentation of his career: a three-and-a-half-hour slideshow detailing how the company’s nutrition clubs prove it is a pyramid scheme. If you put “three-and-a-half hours” and “power point” together and guessed that many felt Ackman’s event failed to live up to the hype, you would be correct. David Gaffen spent most of the time during the presentation tracking the steady rise in Herbalife’s share price. At one point yesterday it was up 25 percent over where it had opened.

Herbalife’s statement on the presentation seized on this: “Once again, Bill Ackman has over-promised and under-delivered on his $1 billion bet against our company.” John Hempton at Bronte Capital (long a supporter on the Herbalife side) didn’t find Ackman that convincing. He says he too has done a lot of research on the company and its nutrition companies. “This is not a pyramid. There are plenty of real sales to real people … Its a lousy business but it is a business in which people have integrated their lives and their families,” he writes.

Jul 22, 2014
via Data Dive

Inflation inches up

The latest inflation numbers are out. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in June, following a 0.4 percent rise in May, mostly thanks to high gasoline prices. However, core CPI — which ignores volatile food and gas prices — was only 0.1 percent. CPI year-over-year, which is the number commonly referred to when talking about inflation, now sits at 2.1 percent (1.9 percent without food and gas).

This has implications for monetary policy, as the Fed ponders when exactly to time its first interest rate hike (currently expected sometime early next year). Here’s more detail from Reuters:

Jul 21, 2014
via Counterparties

Unequal inequality

At the Upshot over the weekend, Tyler Cowen writes that Americans’ view of income inequality is too narrowly nationalistic. Instead, he says, we should “preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.” Basically, rising incomes in growing economies like China and India should outweigh the inequality concerns of countries (like the U.S.) where increasing exports are causing incomes at the top to rise. “While Chinese growth has added to income inequality in the United States, it has also increased prosperity and income equality globally,” he says.

A global reduction in income inequality is great, says Ryan Avent, but Cowen’s piece misrepresents the heart of the American argument against income inequality. It isn’t about globalization; instead, it’s about lax financial regulation, subsidies to big banks, low tax rates for the rich, and the appearance that political persuasion can be bought. Further, he says, even if American inequality is benefiting the poor in other parts of the world, “few voters are content to have their economies run as charities.”

Jul 18, 2014
via Data Dive

Charting the U.S.’s child immigrant crisis

The US has a child immigrant crisis. The number of unaccompanied minors sneaking across the border has soared in the last year. From Reuters:

More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been caught trying to sneak over the U.S.-Mexico border since October, double the number from the same period the year before. Thousands more have been apprehended with parents or other adults.

Jul 17, 2014
via Counterparties

Menthol & Antitrust

The U.S. is poised to lose a cigarette company. One of America’s largest tobacco companies, Reynolds American, struck a deal to buy rival Lorillard this week. The deal is for $25 billion excluding debt (which adds about $2 billion more) — although the WSJreports it’s so complex it is unlikely to be finalized before next year. If the deal clears antitrust hurdles, Reynolds-Lorillard together would control somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of the American tobacco market.

Americans on average still smoke 1,300 cigarettes per year, says Roberto Ferdman, but tobacco consumption has been on the decline since the 1960s. “Acquiring Lorillard, the U.S. industry’s third-largest competitor, would help Reynolds cope with the slowdown and give it the Newport menthol line, which is popular in urban areas,” writesBloomberg. Susan Cameron, the CEO of Reynolds, told Dealbook after the merger was announced: “This is about Newport and new synergies.”

Jul 15, 2014
via Counterparties

Monetary matters

Today, Janet Yellen appeared before the Senate Banking Committee to give her semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress. Her basic message, laid out in a prepared statement, hasn’t changed: the economy is slowly improving, but certain measures of the labor market still worry her. Since her last report to Congress in February,“important progress has been made in restoring the economy to health and in strengthening the financial system. Yet too many Americans remain unemployed, inflation remains below our longer-run objective, and not all of the necessary financial reform initiatives have been completed.”

“Yellen’s testimony is likely to reinforce a sense of complacency among investors who regard the Fed as convinced of its forecast and committed to its policy course,” writesBinyamin Appelbaum. He continues that, with regard to the future of monetary policy, “uncertainty about the future is actually contributing to the sense of stability, by making the Fed more cautious about retreating.” Ylan Mui summarizes Yellen’s comments generally: “Move too fast or too abruptly, and the fragile recovery could falter.”

Jul 14, 2014
via Counterparties

The Abenomics arrows

Abenomics grinds on. Bloomberg has just put out a new report on the state of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s project to revive his country’s economy and concludes that “the record is mixed.” “Inflation is up, though import prices rather than wages account for the bulk of the increase. A skeptical public remains unconvinced that long-term prospects are brighter.” Japan is a little over 18 months into Abenomics, and two of the three “arrows” — fiscal stimulus and monetary easing — have been deployed. Barry Ritholz thinks they’ve already been pretty successful so far: “deflation is being replaced by inflation; profits and investments are both increasing for Japanese companies; and the Nikkei 225 is up considerably.”

However, there’s plenty to be worried about. Back in April, Japan raised the consumption tax to 8% from 5% — the first hike since 1997 (which threw the economy into a tailspin). It was supposed to be “the fatal flaw in Abenomics,” according to theEconomist, but “the early signs are that a preternaturally lucky Mr Abe has got away with it.” However, the Japan Times writes today that the economy has taken a significant hit after the tax hike: average household consumption is down, wage growth is below inflation, corporate capital investment hasn’t made up for the fall in household consumption, and export growth is sluggish.

Jul 14, 2014
via Data Dive

Citigroup settles

Citigroup reported earnings today — coincidentally the same day the Justice Department announced a $7 billion settlement with the bank over crisis-era mortgage securities. Its quarterly earnings fell 96 percent to $181 million and its return on equity was a mere 0.2 percent — mostly due to the aforementioned fines. However, the numbers are nonetheless stronger than expected, largely because of a strong quarter in its fixed income business.

Reuters has an interactive graphic showing Citi’s performance versus other big banks. Below is a still — the interactive is here.

Jul 8, 2014
via Data Dive

Did start-ups hold back the recovery?

When you say the word start-up, many people think of the wild proliferation of tech companies in Silicon Valley: Stanford grads sitting in a basement with their friends being offered obscene amounts of money for a mobile app that simply sends a one-word message to a user’s contacts. But economically speaking, a startup is any business that’s less than five years old and has fewer than 20 employees. And, tech bubble or not, start-ups in general have not done so well in the wake of the Great Recession.

A new research note out from the San Francisco Fed concludes that “low growth among start-ups at the beginning of the current recovery may have contributed to slow employment growth overall.”

Jul 7, 2014
via Counterparties

Dark pools’ lifeguard

Not signed up for the Counterparties newsletter yet? Click here.

“Insider Trading 2.0,” New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s war on high-frequency trading abuses, wages on. At the end of June, Schneiderman filed a complaint against Barclays over the activity of the firm’s dark pool, Barclays LX, which is the second-most active alternative trading system in the United States. Schneiderman is accusing Barclays of fraud, suggesting that instead of protecting investors in the dark pool from high-frequency traders (as advertised), the firm did the opposite, and actually “operated its dark pool to favor high frequency traders.”

A dark pool is a non-public place to trade, which is advantageous for big institutional clients because they can buy and sell in large blocks without the transparency of public exchanges. Big investors see this as a good thing, because they can trade without the interference of high-speed trading firms that have the ability to affect the price of the trade between the time a trade order is announced and when it is executed. (Here’s a longer explanation). According to Schneiderman, Barclays sold this narrative to institutional investors to get them to trade on Barclays LX. It then also invited HFT firms into the dark pool, and, to add insult to injury, charged the HFT firms lower fees than their other clients.