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Wednesday June 29, 2005 - 11:16:43 GMT
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Value is in the eye of the beholder


“In truth, there may be no new investment eras, just old investment eras remolded for new audiences.”

F.J. Chu, The Mind of the Market

FX Trading

Don’t worry! Be happy! The dollar seemed to love the news yesterday, as it grabbed back all it lost on Monday, and more.

“The Conference Board reported that its index of consumer confidence hit a three-year high in June,” according to The Wall Street Journal yesterday. If America had a monarchy, which some argue wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but that’s not for us to argue about here, I think Alan is the first name of the man who would be King of America—you know him as Mr. Alan Greenspan.

Consumer Confidence chart

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Personally, owning a home in Florida, King Greenspan’s edicts and proclamations have made me happy. Though, it’s rare I can get through the day without having a déjà vu moment—I keeping thinking I have seen this before. And the scene replayed in my head is the NASDAQ and another event I witnessed. Remember when internet stocks, those few still alive and listed, were trading at about 50-70% higher than they were now? Remember how internet companies were going to obsolete brick and mortar firms? Silly it is in retrospect. But at the time, a whole bunch of otherwise intelligent people were caught up in that belief.

The mania, in some local areas, we are seeing in real estate seems little different. The number of spec buyers to real owners continues to escalate. Flipping of condos has become common place—I have seen that game in person before. I lived in Dallas, Texas, in the 1980’s. At the time, Big-D was riding high. JR Ewing was on top and cowboys (the real life variety, not the football team) started getting the respect they deserve.

Every financial type worth even close to what his ego portrayed learned quickly that it was not real estate brokerage, or insurance, or banking, or any other service that produced real wealth in Texas—it was plain old dirty oil. Black gold it was! But many believed in and leveraged to the hilt those beliefs in another type of tangible asset—real estate.

After oil prices broke. And just after that, the US congress, in their infinite wisdom, altered the tax code, removing many of the advantages to owning real estate. Result: the Texas economy plunged and a national S&L crisis ensued. Many people in Dallas, and Houston especially, were so upside down on leverage, they simply left their keys on the doorstep of their homes and condos for their bankers to collect, drove away, and never returned.

Prices of condos in Dallas plunged. Many fell by 60-80% in “value.” That was not a typo—condo prices in Dallas fell 60-80% after the oil market went bust. I have a very good source who can verify those numbers, unfortunately.

So, where is this ramble going this morning—it goes to an interesting bit of commentary I read by Joachim Fels, he toils away at Morgan Stanley, and does an excellent job at that. In his piece yesterday, titled, “Froth on the Daydream,” Mr. Fells sees froth everywhere. His summation of what’s happening and the source of said froth is a good one.

“Bonds, commodities, and property are on fire. US 10-year Treasury yields are back below 4%, Bund yields are eyeing 3%, oil prices just made a new all-time high and gold is back in favour. House prices look bubbly in many countries and especially in the US. High yield corporate spreads and emerging market spreads have tightening again following the spring sell-off. Froth as far as the eye can see…

“As I see it, the driver behind these simultaneous rallies across asset classes and across countries remains the unprecedented amount of excess liquidity, created over the past several years by central banks that have kept real short-term interest rates at or below zero. Thus, as I have pointed out before, the answer to Alan Greenspan’s bond yield conundrum, and to the wider conundrum of simultaneous rallies in virtually all asset classes, is with the Chairman’s policies, together with those of his counterparts at other central banks. Extremely low short-term interest rates have encouraged the global carry trade, executed by banks, proliferating hedge funds and private equity firms, corporations and individual property investors.

“Thus, taking a global perspective it seems that, despite the Fed’s continuing tightening campaign, liquidity springs eternal, creating more and more froth in financial markets. As I already pointed out two years ago, central banks have long become prisoners of their past (monetary easing) deeds: once the genie called liquidity is out of the bottle, it is virtually impossible to get it back in again, except for the high price of a serious financial and economic recession caused by aggressive interest rate increases. Make no mistake: no central banker on this globe is willing to pay this price. Hence the party will go on. Or won’t it?
So, there’s a big choice ahead for the man who would be King. So far his proclamations tell us everything is moving along just fine. Consumer confidence numbers tell us there is harmony throughout the land. The question is: When will we realize our emperor is wearing no clothes? At that moment, froth and real value will be quickly recognized.

Jack Crooks
Black Swan Capital


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