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The Stingy News Quarterly (Q4/2008)

Stingy Investor Tip Sheet

Asset allocation for the ages
A quote on asset allocation from the distant past.

Synthetic Debt Ratings
Aswath Damodaran worked out a simple way to find a firm's debt rating. He determined that debt ratings primarily, and overwhelmingly, depend on interest coverage ratios. Calculate the ratio and you can determine debt ratings with reasonable precision.

Debt Ratios
I use leverage ratios in several articles but many online stock screeners only provide debt-to-equity ratios. The two are linked and either can be used in some cases. Let's take a closer look.

A Lost Decade
Fully two thirds of the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average are now trading below prices first seen more than a decade ago.

A Median Market
The market is littered with attractive stocks based on median market statistics.

The Standard & Poor's Indices Versus Active Funds (SPIVA) scorecard for the most recent quarter (Q3 2008) out. As usual, some fund categories did well compared to the index, others not so much.

Simple TSX Composite
I applied the Simple Way to the stocks in the S&P/TSX Composite with a couple of twists. I stuck to stocks that pay dividends and focused on those with the lowest P/E ratios.

Simply S&P500
I applied the Simple Way to the stocks in the S&P500 with a couple of twists. I stuck to stocks that pay dividends and focused on those with the lowest P/E ratios.

ETF Counterparty Risk
The crash of 2008 sent a hoard of once-mighty financial institutions to the graveyard. Even worse, the problems that infected them spread. The hunt is now on for anything that may have been touched by counterparty risk, which rears its head when banks fail. Some investors are even looking farther afield and are starting to worry about their exchange traded funds.

The Downside of Dividends
Stocks with big dividends have a reputation for holding up well during downturns. But many dividend stocks have been decimated during the recent sell off.

Slow Growth, Big Returns
High asset growth? Expect low stock returns.

Tangible Book Bargains
We look for profitable Canadian stocks trading below tangible book value.

Mighty MicroCaps
Who wants to hold tiny micocap stocks in a bear market? Almost no one. That's why I decided to look for small Canadian stocks that have been discarded by investors looking for safer havens.

Cash not credit
Today we're looking for debt-light Canadian stocks trading at low price-to-earnings ratios.

High Yielding Smoke Stocks
Survival is easy when you don't need to borrow money. It is even easier when you're a cash generating machine like a cigarette company. Due to the current panic you can get yields north of 6% from big tobacco. Can these stock go down? Sure thing. Even cash generators can decline in a panic. But some are starting to look quite interesting.

The Best Stingy Links

Stingy Links: Academia

Most likely to succeed
"This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they'll do once they're hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching."

Private matters
"Why do private firms stay private? Empirical evidence on this issue is sparse, as most private firms in the US do not report their financial results. We investigate why private status matters by taking advantage of a unique dataset of large, leveraged private firms with SEC filings. Unlike a number of other studies, we find that neither the existence of growth opportunities, nor the desire of firm founders to diversify, is a principal determinant of the decision whether or not to retain private status. Rather, the existence of private benefits of control appears to serve as the most significant incentive to stay private. Family-controlled firms have significantly lower probabilities of filing for an IPO, while a board structure that grants management relatively more autonomy lowers the probability of an IPO filing as well. Crosssectional analysis of profitability and ex post performance suggests that while private benefits of control may encourage firms to stay private, they do not have detrimental effects on firm efficiency. In contrast, firms controlled by private equity specialists appear to place a low value on control benefits and are likely to go public as a means of cashing out."

Stingy Links: Accounting

Companies win, investors lose
"The Canadian accounting standards board announced last week that they would let companies reclassify certain assets to delay reporting losses to investors. What happened was exactly what was warned about in these pages two weeks ago. Companies are being given more leeway to manipulate net income. In short, Canadian banks and insurers will report higher income than they otherwise could have in their forthcoming year-end reports."

SEC agrees to accounting shift
"The Center for Audit Quality, which represents accountants, said in a letter seven days later that perpetual preferred securities should be treated as equity because the holdings do not have a maturity date and 'the investor cannot recover its investment simply by holding the investment.'"

Accounting standards wilt under pressure
"World leaders have vowed to help prevent future financial meltdowns by creating international accounting standards so all companies would play by the same rules, but the effort has instead been mired in loopholes and political pressures."

Stingy Links: Behaviour

Everyone's watching
"Markets work best when investors are thinking for themselves, and tend to go awry when the obsession with what everyone else is doing becomes a dominant concern. Maybe what investors really need is to periodically take a market-information vacation."

Stingy Links: Bogle

Good riddance
"In Berkshire Hathaway's 2005 annual report Warren Buffett offered the parable of the fictional Gotrocks family. Sole owners of corporate America, this huge clan sits back and collects the generous rewards of investing. Until fast-talking helpers arrive and persuade some family members to pay the helpers to try to earn more at the expense of other family members. But in total the family ends up with less. Why? Because the Gotrocks are now paying the helpers, thus diminishing the total return earned by all the businesses in their portfolio. Worse, the Gotrocks are now forced to pay taxes on the capital gains incurred as the helpers swap stocks back and forth. After several go-rounds with different helpers, the Gotrocks finally listen to an old, wise uncle who advises them to fire all the helpers and simply reap 100% of their investment gains themselves."

Stingy Links: Bonds

Want to lend money to Uncle Sam?
"What would your reaction be if you had a friend who had reached the limit on 20 different credit cards and then came to you to borrow $100? Then imagine that you actually said yes, and when you went to give your friend the $100, he or she actually asked for $101 just for the privilege of loaning the money. Well, that is exactly what is happening (to a lesser degree) in the US T-bill market. As just another example of the crazy times we are living in, the yield on 3-Month Treasuries went negative today."

Muni-bond funds face record losses
"With the stock market down more than 40% and Treasury bond yields at 50-year lows, municipal bonds can seem an attractive option. And while some managers see once-in-a-lifetime bargains in the muni market, several funds have cratered."

The case for bonds
"Boring is beautiful - or so it feels in this time of wild and crazy stock market swings. In this case we're talking about investment-grade corporate bonds, which are dirt-cheap right now for the same reason that stocks are: The market turmoil has pounded down their prices. The result is historic opportunities in bonds issued by blue-chip companies."

Junk-bond yields bode ill for stocks
"Unsurprisingly, yields in the corporate bond market have recently risen to nine-year highs and high yield, or junk bonds, are trading at record levels as well. Usually junk bonds yield 4.5 to 5 percentage points more than the 10-year Treasury, but now that spread is about 14 points."

High yield credit spreads out of control
"With the 10-Year Treasury currently yielding about 2.65%, high-yield borrowers currently have to pay nearly 23% per year to borrow money for a ten-year period. It's going to take pretty high margins to maintain profitability in this kind of environment."

Is junk a bargain?
"The recent selloff has shocked junk investors, who had grown used to monthly returns in a range of negative 1% to positive 2%. Based on some statistical measures, September's 8% drop should have occurred only once in 27,777 years, according to Leverage World, a weekly publication of Garman Research."

Stingy Links: Books

Findependence day
"The protagonists grapple with two key concepts - financial independence and guerrilla frugality. Financial independence (the book's title is a contraction of the term) refers to the goal for most of us: the day on which our assets are large enough to cover our living expenses and we don't have to work for a living anymore. ... Guerrilla frugality is the key means to achieve the end, financial independence."

Stingy Links: Brokers

Qtrade retains crown
"Now to the question of which brokers are best. Qtrade Investor, a small firm out of Vancouver, has taken top spot for the third straight year, while BMO InvestorLine, E*Trade Canada and TD Waterhouse also scored well. Qtrade is an example of a broker that does almost everything well. Whether it's keeping costs low, providing tools that help investors make smart decisions or offering a sturdy trading platform, Qtrade has it covered."

Beware of fees
"Insult is about to be added to the injury done to your investment portfolios in the past year. With the value of your account falling, you may find yourself paying higher commissions to trade stocks, as well as miscellaneous fees from which you were previously exempt. Not convinced on the merits of putting money into the markets right now, with share prices knocked way off their peaks of last summer? Now you have the additional motivation of being able to avoid parasitic fees by reinflating your depleted account."

Stingy Links: Buffett

Buy American. I Am.
"I've been buying American stocks. This is my personal account I'm talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities."

The other reason for Warren Buffett's success
"Since the end of 1988, Berkshire's stock portfolio has grown from $3.56 billion to $69.51 billion. That is a spectacular average annual increase of 16.5%, far surpassing the 10.5% annualized return of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. Of course, this calculation is only a crude approximation, since it ignores the cash that Mr. Buffett added in -- and moved out -- along the way. Over the same period, the growth in Berkshire's book value per share, which reflects all of Mr. Buffett's activities, not just his stock-picking, was 19.9%. In other words, Mr. Buffett's skill at picking publicly traded stocks pales alongside the value he has added to the company through other means."

You pay a high price for a cheery consensus
"There may well be some period in the near future when financial markets are demoralized and much better buys are available in equities; that possibility exists at all times. But you can be sure that at such a time the future will seem neither predictable nor pleasant. Those now awaiting a "better time" for equity investing are highly likely to maintain that posture until well into the next bull market."

Buffett will give more info on derivatives
"Billionaire investor Warren Buffett will provide more information to investors on how he calculates losses on his Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s derivative bets in the firm's annual report early next year. The report will disclose 'all aspects of valuation' and cover 'deficiencies in the formula' for pricing the derivatives, 'which we nevertheless use,' Buffett said in an e- mail"

Warren E. Buffett braves a crisis
"In the midst of a financial crisis, a towering figure of American business steps forward with his reputation and financial resources for public good and personal gain. Their times and personalities are vastly different, of course. But J. Pierpont Morgan's role in the Panic of 1907 has its echo in Warren E. Buffett's actions during the current financial troubles."

The revival of railroads
"Last April, Warren E. Buffett flew to Kansas City, Mo., to join Matthew K. Rose for a ride in a vintage 1930s railcar. Buffett, the billionaire investor from Omaha, and Rose, the chief executive of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BN), munched on hamburgers and jelly beans as they chugged 430 miles up to Chicago. Along the way, they talked about Burlington Northern's unlikely turnaround and how the once-stalled railroad could build on its recent momentum."

Buffett: My fix for the economy
"Warren Buffett suggested Thursday that the U.S. Treasury team with private investors to buy the distressed mortgage assets at the center of the controversial $700 billion Wall Street bailout, and said the price tag of the rescue plan may have to rise."

Buffett buys GE preferred
"General Electric Co. plans to offer $12 billion in common shares and billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will buy $3 billion stake of preferred shares."

The economy works
"Buffett, speaking to California first lady Maria Shriver's Women's Conference in Long Beach, said he has no idea what will happen in the coming two years but was confident that over a 10-year span the stock market would outperform cash-based investments, such as certificates of deposits and savings accounts, which can lose value when inflation is subtracted from gains."

Stingy Links: Christmas

Merry Christmas!
"A collection of links to help inspire a little Christmas cheer."

Stingy Links: Crime

How can you spot a wall street crook?
"The key concept here, developed by MIT professor and noted hedge-fund theorist Andrew Lo, is "serial correlation." Simply put, serial correlation is the degree to which each month's returns in a fund mirror the results of the month before. A fund that returns the exact same amount every month is perfectly serially correlated. Madoff's returns were strikingly consistent month after month, year in and year out. That kind of performance - a nice, smooth line going up no matter what the market does - is a really good sign that you should look more closely."

'Financial psychopaths' wreak havoc
"Two of the most remarkable frauds in the history of finance were exposed this week. They are just beginning to unravel and as such we don't fully understand the magnitude of the crimes. But already I can tell you they are of epic, even cinematic, proportions. This is really from the "can't make this stuff up" school of news. These two miscreants aren't just every day corner-cutters, they are world-class whack."

Help wanted: compliance officer
"In these trying times, it will come as a great relief to many to learn that there will be at least one new hire on Bay Street between now and Christmas (2009). The subject of this post is a little unusual for PrefBlog, but I.m just trying to help out and spread the news of a vacancy. And besides, this is hilarious."

'Illegal' glacier investment juiced returns
"His funds were the envy of the imploding hedge fund sector, managing to deliver a 159-per-cent return so far in a year marred by the worst bear market in decades. Now Otto Spork, a former dentist, is facing allegations that the fund's returns were juiced by unsubstantiated valuations in several underlying investments in Icelandic glaciers."

Top broker accused of $50 billion fraud
"Bernard L. Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and a force in Wall Street trading for nearly 50 years, was arrested by federal agents Thursday, a day after his sons turned him in for running what they said their father called "a giant Ponzi scheme." The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil complaint, said it was an ongoing $50 billion swindle, and asked a judge to seize the firm and its assets. "Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions," said Andrew M. Calamari, associate director of enforcement in the SEC's New York office."

The Perfect Ponzi
"As the investigations into Bernie Madoff's gigantic Ponzi scheme continue, one thing is becoming clear: The reason it lasted so long and got so huge is that it was superbly executed."

Stingy Links: Debt

Student loan fugitives
"When faced with unaffordable monthly payments and relentless creditors, some see leaving the country as their only way out."

The age of obligation
"Excessive debt is the key to this crisis; it is the reason we are confronting no ordinary recession, curable by a simple downward adjustment of interest rates. It is the reason we still have to fear, if not a second Great Depression, then very likely the biggest recession since the 1930s. We are living through the painful end of an age of leverage which saw total private and public debt in the US rise from about 155 per cent of gross domestic product in the early 1980s to something like 342 per cent by the middle of this year."

I.O.U.S.A. 30-minute movie
"Wake up, America! We're on the brink of a financial meltdown. I.O.U.S.A. boldly examines the rapidly growing national debt and its consequences for the United States and its citizens. Burdened with an ever-expanding government and military, increased international competition, overextended entitlement programs, and debts to foreign countries that are becoming impossible to honor, America must mend its spendthrift ways or face an economic disaster of epic proportions."

Stingy Links: Derivatives

Evil Wall Street exports boomed
"While the collapse was most visible in the stock markets, the cause was the loss of confidence in the world's biggest bond market, structured finance. So far, it has led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the disappearance or takeover of more than a dozen banks, including three storied Wall Street firms, and almost $3 trillion in government expenditures and guarantees to contain the contagion."

'Tax event' may be next for bruised PPNs
"For a supposedly safe investment, there sure are a lot of risks associated with principal-protected notes. Tax changes being considered by the Canada Revenue Agency could, in the words of one issuer of principal-protected notes (PPNs), "have a material adverse effect" on these investments. And then there's the experience of the U.S. investors who hold PPNs issued by the once illustrious but now bankrupt Lehman Brothers. They're waiting in line to get paid along with other creditors."

Dig a grave for those wretched PPNs
"I've called them the worst of both worlds - bad for equity investors and inappropriate for those seeking a predictable flow of income. And professional money managers would never buy one; the odds are stacked against them. I'm talking about principal-protected notes, or PPNs."

The model made me do it
"At the bottom of every financial model there is in fact a stubborn lie - the pretense that financial markets operate in the manner of a physical process, subject to the iron laws of statistics, like atoms bouncing around in a thermodynamic equilibrium. This beguiling analogy makes it too easy for geeks like me to lose sight of a timeless truth: If atoms could talk to one another, then the laws of thermodynamics would get broken every day by clouds of stampeding gases."

Stingy Links: Dividends

Investors lick wounds from dividend cuts
"Thirty-six companies listed on Standard & Poor's 500-stock index have cut or suspended dividends 46 times in 2008, sucking some $33.3 billion from investors' pockets, according to Standard & Poor's. From that sum, $30.8 billion came from financial companies, representing 37 individual actions."

Dividend ETFs: One way to ride out the storm
"A jump back into the stock market right now will pay dividends right away. This is not a market-timing call, but rather a statement of fact. If you buy into an exchange-traded fund that tracks the broad stock market, you'll put yourself in a position to start receiving a surprisingly good flow of dividends."

Fear and value
"The trend of late is clear: yields are rising, dramatically so in recent months. European yields lead the pack at 4.93% at last month's close, based on S&P Global Equity Indices. The U.S., Asia Pacific and the developed world-ex-US are also posting substantially higher dividend yields compared to recent years. For reasons that need no explanation, however, investors are reluctant to avail themselves of these higher yields. For comparison, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury Note closed out September 2008 at 3.85%."

Stingy Links: Dorfman

Buying the bargains in health care, energy
"Dorfman noted that drug-company stocks are selling at similar multiples to tobacco stocks, "and the last time I looked, tobacco stocks didn't save people's lives." After five years of being sold hard, Dorfman likes the look of pharmaceutical stocks, and he also is interested in metals and energy stocks because they soared early in the year and have now been hammered to bargain levels. Dorfman also suggested that investors avoid the "glamour premium" of gold stocks."

Stingy Links: Dreman

It's time to buy
"First, do not flee the market by selling your quality stocks. Yes, it's the worst bear market since 2000--02, and stocks are trading at valuations not seen in decades, but equities will come back. Second, because credit is subject to unpredictable crunches and it's impossible to guess when this bear will end, don't buy on margin. Third, don't hold shares of companies that will need cash to expand or refinance. There is a good chance they won't be able to borrow."

Stingy Links: Economics

A scientific revolution for economics
"If empirical observation is incompatible with a model, the model must be trashed or amended, even if it is conceptually beautiful or mathematically convenient. So many accepted ideas have been proven wrong in the history of physics that physicists have grown to be critical and queasy about their own models. Unfortunately, such healthy scientific revolutions have not yet taken hold in economics, where ideas have solidified into dogmas"

Macroeconomics is complete bunkum
"I confess that the only Hayek book I made it through without my eyes glazing over was 'The Fatal Conceit.' It's a slim volume written later in life, apparently after Hayek discovered humbleness, an unusual discovery for an economist. His thesis is simple - 'I don't care how smart you are, you can't keep track of all this s**t.' Economists who believe they can centrally plan a national economy and optimize - what, some flaky set of poorly defined aggregates? - are deluded. Politicians who promote these delusions to arrogate power to themselves are knaves. And voters who buy this fantasy are dupes. Yet Hayek be damned, here we go again."

Stingy Links: Economy

The 2008 male recession?
"According to today's BLS report, the U.S. economy has lost 2.352 million jobs in the last year (Nov. 2007 to Nov. 2008). Further analysis shows that 82% of the job losses (1.932 million) were jobs held by males, and only 18% of jobs losses (430,000) were jobs held by females (see top chart above). Further, the November unemployment rate for men is 7.2% vs. only 6% for women, and the gap in jobless rates between men and women has been increasing for the last six months (see bottom chart above). What's going on?"

Holes in our socks
"Right about now, most businesses are trying to work out how their customers are likely to respond to the recession. Looking back to the last really nasty recession - the early 1980s - isn't much help for low-cost airlines, cell-phone companies, Internet retailers, producers of organic and fair-trade food, and many other businesses barely imagined at the dawn of the Reagan era. The economy has simply changed too much since then for experience to be a reliable guide."

It's official: recession since Dec. '07
"The National Bureau of Economic Research said Monday that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy."

The economic fight of the year
"In one corner stands Amity Shlaes, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Bloomberg columnist, and author of The Forgotten Man, a history of the Great Depression. She points out that federal spending during the New Deal did not restore economic health. Unemployment stayed high and the Dow Jones Industrial average stayed low. In the other corner stands Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, a professor at Princeton University and a columnist of The New York Times. He believes that the New Deal didn't spend enough."

Stingy Links: Education

Et in Arcadia Ego
"In short, private education in America spends money like a drunken sailor with Warren Buffett's credit card." [Some harsh language.]

Stingy Links: Fun

Bonus jackpot can be yours in 5 easy steps
"If even the steelworkers union can parse the Wall Street doublespeak, the doublespeak has lost its power to persuade. Too many people know too many things. The problem of how to get paid on Wall Street must be radically reframed."

The south sea bubble of 1720
Bird and Fortune on the South Sea Bubble.

Credit crunch humour
"I went to buy a toaster and it came with a bank . . . "

Gable's favourites from 2008
"Globe cartoonist shares his favourites from 2008"

Funny money
"I enjoy looking at political cartoons and in recent weeks they have certainly taken on a financial focus"

Hank, let me help you help this great country
"By giving money to bankers who have made many stupid loans you have made life harder for bankers who have never made stupid loans. By aiding the dumb banks you prevent the smart ones from replacing them. It may be that just now smart bankers are the last thing we need -- but one day they may come in handy, and so we should do what we can to keep them from getting discouraged. Here's where I come in: I'm not a banker of any kind, but a mere writer. My little literary enterprise can absorb many billions of taxpayer dollars without consequence to the banking industry, or even to U.S. gross domestic literary output. If anything, other writers would have an opportunity to write more, as I, busy managing my new pile of cash, will naturally have no time to write."

'Dilbert' on how to save your career
"I'm drawing a series right now where he gets laid off and he has to go through a really tough bunch of interviews to try and get another job. At one point he is asked whether he would take a bullet for a prospective employer and they make him go to a firing range to prove it."

Stingy Links: Funds

Time to ditch the style box
"Looking over the last 15 years, the style box is very correlated with itself. The lowest correlation is 75%, between largecap value and smallcap growth. That is not a reason to categorize managers; the difference between the average largecap value and growth manger is teensy. It is even true between largecap value and smallcap growth. And in more recent years, the correlations have been tightening to nearly 90% at worst."

Stingy Links: Government

They warned us about the mortgage crisis
"Some states, including North Carolina and Georgia, passed laws aimed at deterring rash loans only to have federal authorities undercut them. In Iowa and other states, mortgage mills arranged to be acquired by nationally regulated banks and in the process fended off more-assertive state supervision. In Ohio the story took a different twist: State lawmakers acting at the behest of lenders squelched an attempt by the Cleveland City Council to slow the subprime frenzy. A number of factors contributed to the mortgage disaster and credit crunch. Interest rate cuts and unprecedented foreign capital infusions fueled thoughtless lending on Main Street and arrogant gambling on Wall Street. The trading of esoteric derivatives amplified risks it was supposed to mute. One cause, though, has been largely overlooked: the stifling of prescient state enforcers and legislators who tried to contain the greed and foolishness. They were thwarted in many cases by Washington officials hostile to regulation and a financial industry adept at exploiting this ideology."

California crisis may crunch jobs
"Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are deadlocked on how to close a two-year budget gap that grew to $42 billion as job losses and stalled consumer spending reduced income and sales taxes. Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders met yesterday without a resolution and are scheduled to continue talks through the holidays."

Capitalism: the remix
"The nastier this recession gets, the more people will talk about the discrediting of markets and the failure of deregulation. So the next time the Dow dives off a cliff, splash your face with ice water and remember two things: This end-of-capitalism talk is bunk, and it distracts us from the debate we should be having. The real question is how to manage the necessary shift in the balance of our mixed economy. Outlandish though it may sound now, red-blooded capitalism must be part of the answer."

All the regulations money can buy
"When congress and two presidents get tired of shoveling our unborn grandchildren's money into the bad debt inferno, sure as night follows day our public servants will embark on an orgy of regulatory rule making intended to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. How'd that work out last time?"

Economists have abandoned principle
"Practically every day the government launches a massively expensive new initiative to solve the problems that the last day's initiative did not. It is hard to discern any principles behind these actions. The lack of a coherent strategy has increased uncertainty and undermined the public's perception of the government's competence and trustworthiness."

A mortgage bailout plan's paltry results
"Basically, the plan was to offer as much as $300 billion in government-guaranteed home loans to people whose current mortgages exceed the value of their houses; 400,000 people would benefit, it was said. Well, the early returns are in, and the program is, at this point, a flop. There have been only 312 applications, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. At that rate, the three-year program would help only about 5,400 borrowers."

Obama's program flunks basic math
"O'Neill did the math so you don't have to. Each job 'will cost $250,000, which doesn't suggest much labor intensity for the dollars spent,' he said. 'It makes me wonder if any of the planners or commentators are good at arithmetic.' They're not good at arithmetic. And one wonders about their facility with economics."

California will run out of money in February
"Property taxes, the mainstay of any state's income, have been frozen for many homeowners since a proposition was passed in the late 1970s. A separate measure, introduced in the 1980s, means that income taxes cannot be raised without the agreement of two-thirds of the state's lawmakers. Meanwhile, a raft of other ballot measures control spending, meaning that only 25 per cent of California's spending is considered "discretionary". The rest has been "earmarked" for a particular cause or project."

Fueling up the next bubble
"The market normally dispatches the grim reaper to punish foolish entrepreneurs and credulous investors on a slay-as-you-go basis, returning talent and salvageable assets to the fertilizer heap. When played right, only the participants in the game lose their shirts. The cautious crowd gets to watch and say 'Tsk-tsk, they should have known better.' Sometimes, just sometimes, a crazy idea works. When it does, the lucky, smart and bold earn rich rewards. This rare dispensation of disproportionate wealth, along with the knowledge that failure is rarely fatal, is what motivates the thoughtful risk taking that propels genuine progress. Welcome to capitalism in its purest form. When the grim reaper's hand is staid by the twin forces of mass delusion and public policy, the game of capitalism mutates."

Solar meets polar
"Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of renewable energy. This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine."

Corporate jets and congress
"This is the age-old story of those in sin throwing the first stones. And they do so without shame because they assume we are so ignorant we will not see them as the hypocrites they are. So what is going on here? Once again we of the public are being played for fools. Our politicians who are in total disarray on the economy are taking cheap shots at those who are helpless and hopeless."

GM and Chrysler will get $13.4 Billion
"General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC will get $13.4 billion in emergency government loans in exchange for substantially restructuring their businesses, President George W. Bush announced. Another $4 billion will be available to GM in February providing Congress releases the second half of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program fund originally set up to bail out financial institutions. The automakers have until March 31 to meet the conditions of the loans, including demonstrating they have a plan to become profitable, or be forced to repay."

The new deal didn't always work
"Many people are looking back to the Great Depression and the New Deal for answers to our problems. But while we can learn important lessons from this period, they're not always the ones taught in school."

Get ready for a lost decade
"How many times have you heard that we've learned the lessons of the Great Depression and won't repeat the same mistakes? That statement is a bit of a false promise, since there was only one Great Depression, and many, many steps were taken and not taken, with no chance to rerun the experiment over and over to figure out what worked, or would have worked, and what didn't."

Housing goals we can't afford
"The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 when bank competition was sharply limited by law and lenders had little incentive to seek out business in lower-income neighborhoods. But in 1995 the Clinton administration added tough new regulations. The federal government required banks that wanted .outstanding. ratings under the act to demonstrate, numerically, that they were lending both in poor neighborhoods and to lower-income households."

Deleveraging can save jobs
"One part of the solution to the current crisis is for Congress and the Treasury to restore, temporarily, the option for companies to deleverage by retiring debt at a discount without incurring tax liability. Tax-code and regulatory changes in the 1980s limited this option by treating the difference between the original issue price of debt and the lower amount for which it's repurchased as taxable income. The resulting tax liability on this "phantom income" decreases liquidity and blocks necessary restructuring of distressed corporate balance sheets. It also creates a perverse preference for bankruptcy that destroys asset values, jobs and customer relations. Finally, it puts American companies at a disadvantage relative to their competitors in nations with more accommodating tax structures, such as Germany and France. We believe American enterprises should be encouraged to deleverage, whether by exchanging newly issued or existing stock for debt, or using cash from asset sales. This is the worst possible time to impose a tax liability on companies trying to avoid layoffs by reducing their interest payments on debt. Freed from a tax on phantom income, thousands of companies will become stronger through deleveraging."

Counterfeiting vs. monetary policy
"The justifications for Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was to prevent bank failure and maintain price stability. Simple before and after analysis demonstrates that the Federal Reserve Bank has been a failure. In the century before the Federal Reserve Act, wholesale prices fell by 6 percent; in the century after they rose by 1,300 percent. Maximum bank failures in one year before 1913 were 496 and afterward, 4,400. During the 1930s, inept money supply management by the Federal Reserve Bank was partially responsible for both the depth and duration of the Great Depression."

Pan Am dies, America lives
"The whole financial crisis is about the death of responsibility: the buck stopped nowhere. Everyone profited from toxic paper. Bernard Madoff, he of the alleged multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, is only the latest example. Irresponsibility has also characterized Detroit. I don.t see how you restore responsibility with a bailout."

Repeal the Glass-Steagall act
"I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010" [from 1999 ...]

Fat discrimination tax
"It made the financial news, because everyone knows it's not really about health. But even the numbers don't add up. New York Governor, David Paterson, has proposed a 15% tax on sugar-sweetened sodas, calling it an obesity tax. That makes it sound like it has a noble intention of public health concerns over obesity, when, as the Financial Times noted, it's really just a way to raise money to help address the state's $13.3 billion deficit. But even that's pretty sorry math."

Nanny State 2008
"Do you really want to live in a world where giant inflatable apes are banned? takes a short, depressing look at nanny state bans that were passed or proposed in 2008."

Stingy Links: Graham

Cheap Japanese markets
"The Japanese market has been hit so hard this fall that some of its corporate titans are trading at prices that value guru Benjamin Graham would find to be bargains."

Upside of the down dow
"The investor who permits himself to be stampeded or unduly worried by unjustified market declines in his holdings is perversely transforming his basic advantage into a basic disadvantage. That man would be better off if his stocks had no market quotation at all, for he would then be spared the mental anguish caused him by other persons' mistakes of judgment."

Stocks below net current asset value
"One of Graham's investment fund strategies, as explained in his best-selling book The Intelligent Investor, was to buy stocks that are valued at a discount to their net current asset value. Graham called such stocks "bargain issues." In other words, Graham would look for stocks whose current assets less total liabilities was worth more than what the stock was trading at. This meant that any plant, property and equipment, goodwill and long-term investments were free."

Ben Graham then and now
"In mid-1932, almost precisely at the bottom of the Great Crash, Benjamin Graham turned up as a freelance writer in the pages of FORBES. He was later to be known as the father of value investing and as a mentor to Warren Buffett. But at the time he was the manager of a fairly obscure hedge fund. That fund, which combined long and short positions but was mostly long, was hurting. It had tumbled 70% from its 1929 high. (The Dow was down 87%.) Stocks had got too cheap, Graham pleaded. The fact that profits were vanishing almost didn't matter. You could buy companies for less than their net liquidating value. You got the goodwill and the factories for nothing."

Stingy Links: Grant

The confidence game
"In the past two weeks, governments in Asia, Europe and the U.S. have effectively nationalized vast swaths of banking. Central banks have ramped up their money printing. In the past week alone, the Fed's balance sheet swelled by $179 billion, to a grand total of $1.77 trillion. In announcing such radical measures, intervening governments never fail to invoke confidence. They say they must restore it. Destroying confidence, however, is what governments do best. And the confidence they can restore is usually the kind that got us where we are today. Inflation and moral hazard led directly to the immense overvaluation of equities and residential real estate -- and of the bloating of the leverage that sustained those prices. Yet, to cure what ails us, credit creation and the public guarantee of banking liabilities are the policies today most favored."

Is the medicine worse than the illness?
"The world ran out of trust in 2008 -- but there is no shortage of money because the Fed is printing like mad. It's the wrong approach, with potentially dire consequences, says James Grant."

Grant sees 'disastrous inflation'
A Bloomberg audio podcast of a conversation with James Grant

James Grant pops Greenspan's bubbles
"Such proofs of Grant's foresight -- the power of mind over mania -- fill his new anthology, 'Mr. Market Miscalculates,' a bracing tonic as U.S. equities suffer what may prove their worst year since 1931. We've all met Mr. Market. He's the manic-depressive business partner invented by value investor Benjamin Graham. When the sun is shining, he urges you to sell him your share of the business. When night falls, he begs you to buy him out. Price is no object. Grant's omnibus offers a blow-by-blow account of one man's battle with this crank, from dot-com binge to mortgage meltdown."

Stingy Links: Hallett

Perspective on the bear market
"The decline in stock prices triggered by the U.S. financial crisis has been frightening at times. Most shocking has been the sheer velocity of the decline, which rivals that of the crash of 1929. And despite a recent rally, there is enough bad news to push stock prices back down. But unless you believe the global economy will grind to a halt; I see five reasons why investors should be optimistic today."

Five things you should know about bear markets
"North American stocks have been halved. Overseas stocks have lost even more. Indeed, bear markets can be frightening but they are necessary. In order to enjoy the long-term rewards of investing in stocks, investors must shoulder the associated risks. One of those risks is the occasional emergence of a bear market (a decline of 20 per cent or more). To better understand this risk, here are five things you need to know about this unwelcome beast."

Stingy Links: Indexing

New ETFs can serve as caution signs
"There are many notable exceptions, but all too often an ETF's debut coincides with the moment when investors should be starting to think about taking profits in the area of the fund's focus. As is evident in the table below, this isn't a new phenomenon. In 1996, the incipient ETF industry was bolstered by the addition of a quartet of Asian funds. Just 16 months later, Asian currencies nosedived and stock prices throughout the region collapsed, kneecapping investors with double-barreled blasts."

Some ETFs fall short on pricing
"For the thinly traded ETFs, many of the most problematic trades seem to take place moments after the market opens. For example: On Nov. 14, an investor sold 500 shares of First Trust S&P REIT Index ETF for $8.18 -- about 12% below the value of the fund's underlying holdings -- at two seconds past 9:30 a.m. EST. Three minutes later, 1,000 shares sold at a price about 3% below. By 10 a.m. the discount had settled to about 1%."

Complex and pricey
"The fund holds a motley collection of 21 ETFs and fully three make up less than 1% of the portfolio. Compare the complexity of this fund with the simplicity of the ING Streetwise Balanced Fund, which has 40% in bonds and 60% split equally among Canadian, U.S. and other developed markets."

S&P 500 index: now more poor, less standard
"Every once in a while the committee faces a rare situation where a large portion of the S&P 500 Index does not meet one or more requirement they have outlined. Usually the simply ignore it and hope that it just goes away on its own."

Market woes hit newer ETFs
"The market mayhem hasn't stopped fund companies from rolling out scores of new exchange-traded funds this year. But it has made it tough for many of these young funds to gain traction, and that could mean trouble for investors."

Stingy Links: Kahn

There are old-school investors ...
"Market's panic 'not so new to me,' says 102-year-old disciple of Benjamin Graham. He and his son Thomas like such banged-up stocks as Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb."

Stingy Links: Klarman

Channeling Graham and Dodd
"Klarman assembled a who's who of prominent value investors - including Glenn Greenberg, David Abrams, Howard Marks and Thomas Russo - to write introductory commentary to each of the book's sections, drawing out the timeless wisdom in the original text and combining it with additional insight and examples relevant to today's market."

Seth Klarman one on one
"First, value investing is intellectually elegant. basically buying bargains. It also appeals because all the studies demonstrate that it works. People who chase growth, who chase highfliers, inevitably lose because they paid a premium price. They lose to the people who have more patience and more discipline. Third, it.s easy to talk in the abstract, but in real life you see situations that are just plain mispriced, where an ignored, neglected, or abhorred company may be just as attractive as others in the same industry. In time, the discount will be corrected, and you will have the wind at your back as a holder of the stock."

Stingy Links: Law

Discounters face battle on minimum pricing
"Manufacturers have been racing to enforce minimum-pricing policies since last year, when the Supreme Court ruled them to be legal, and not a violation of antitrust law. EBay and a group of other retailers and antitrust advocates are meeting Thursday in Washington to craft a strategy to overturn that ruling."

Employee free choice act is unconstitutional
"The government-chosen panel could well impose terms that might cripple the firm competitively. Consider that the takings clause surely prevents the government from forcing any person to buy real estate for twice its market value from a seller. That same principle applies to this labor law: No government should be able to force a firm to hire labor at $50 per hour when the company is not willing to pay half that much."

Stingy Links: Management

How sticky are wages?
"There's been a huge shift in power in recent years from labor to capital: corporate profits have been rising much faster than wages for some time now. It makes sense that capital would make use of its newfound power to reduce labor costs in a deflationary environment of rising unemployment. During the boom, companies laid off workers because those workers demanded, and cost, too much money. Now that workers have lost their negotiating leverage, we might start seeing more across-the-board pay cuts."

The other half of "artists ship"
"As companies grow they invariably get more such checks, either in response to disasters they've suffered, or (probably more often) by hiring people from bigger companies who bring with them customs for protecting against new types of disasters. It's natural for organizations to learn from mistakes. The problem is, people who propose new checks almost never consider that the check itself has a cost."

Stingy Links: Markets

The perils of efficiency
"The logic behind these reforms was simple: the market would allocate resources more efficiently than government, leading to greater productivity. Farmers, instead of growing subsidized maize and wheat at high cost, could concentrate on cash crops, like cashews and chocolate, and use the money they made to buy staple foods. If a country couldn't compete in the global economy, production would migrate to countries that could. It was also assumed that, once governments stepped out of the way, private investment would flood into agriculture, boosting performance. And international aid seemed a more efficient way of relieving food crises than relying on countries to maintain surpluses and food-security programs, which are wasteful and costly."

Joe investor, the markets are all yours
"This is a huge change for the little guys. Rob Arnott, who oversees $35 billion at Research Affiliates LLC in Newport Beach, Calif., puts it this way: "The question that hardly anyone ever thinks about is: Who's on the other side of my trade, and why are they willing to be losers if I'm going to be a winner?" Ever since the 1970s, the person on the other side of your trade has almost always been someone who manages billions of dollars and has millions of dollars to spend on gathering more information than most individuals ever could. Now, however, as Mr. Arnott says, "You can -- and probably do -- have a counterparty on the other side of your trade who absolutely has to sell, perhaps at any price." You would be very wise to give these distressed sellers a little bit of your cash, which they overvalue, in exchange for some of the stocks and bonds that they are undervaluing."

Keep your money in the market
"We will have a serious recession now, but a 1930s-style depression is highly unlikely. We will not let the money supply decline by 25 per cent, as we did in the '30s, and automatic stabilizers (like unemployment insurance) are now a significant element of fiscal policy. Don't forget that the US economy is still the most flexible in the world and our "innovation machine" is alive and well. No one has consistently made money by selling America short, and I am confident the same lesson is true today."

AIG: Europe's lethal loophole
"Before the financial crisis hit, AIG did a booming business in credit default swaps, complex instruments originally designed to protect lenders if borrowers fail to make debt payments. The biggest buyers were European banks, whose deals last year with AIG totaled a staggering $426 billion. But the banks didn't always buy the swaps as insurance against defaults - they often used them to skirt capital requirements."

Wall street lays another egg
"Not so long ago, the dollar stood for a sum of gold, and bankers knew the people they lent to. The author charts the emergence of an abstract, even absurd world - call it Planet Finance - where mathematical models ignored both history and human nature, and value had no meaning."

The end
"Eisman wasn't, in short, an analyst with a sunny disposition who expected the best of his fellow financial man and the companies he created. 'You have to understand,' Eisman says in his defense, 'I did subprime first. I lived with the worst first. These guys lied to infinity. What I learned from that experience was that Wall Street didn't give a shit what it sold.'"

A conversation with Bill Ackman
"Charlie Rose: A conversation with Bill Ackman, major investor and hedge fund manager of Pershing Square Capital Management LP."

As trouble brews, banks turn the screws
"In Canada, Judge Morawetz, an experienced former insolvency lawyer, balked. According to affidavits and reports submitted to his court, Circuit City had landed the life-saving DIP loan by effectively allowing a cross-border raid on its profitable InterTan division. Before handing over a penny to Circuit City, a syndicate of banks led by Bank of America insisted that the Canadian subsidiary pledge as security all the assets and property owned by its chain of 772 stores, known as The Source by Circuit City. On top of that, Circuit City was given the right to demand cash advances from InterTan, while banks were given extraordinary powers to .sweep the cash. of the Canadian branch at their whim after only five days advance notice."

Fear factor
"There have been, and are, plenty of reasons for investors to freak out: the failure of banks; the demise of institutions like Lehman Bros.; the necessity for repeated, spastic government interventions. Nearly every economic indicator in the past few weeks, from auto sales to employment, has been negative. The stock of General Motors sunk to its lowest level since 1950. Banks are refusing to lend to one another. The traditional safe havens of investment, such as municipal bonds and money-market funds, have buckled. The trumpets of leadership are so uncertain, they sound like kazoos."

Finding the gaps
"In short, to arbitrage, you need both access to credit and confidence that market conditions will return to normal. Both are in short supply. If we want the financial system to recover, we need the arbitrageurs to come back."

It's time to invest
"Martin J. Whitman, a professional investor for more than 50 years, said that as long as economies worldwide could avoid an outright depression, stocks were amazingly cheap."

Federal Reserve is damned either way
"The burden of debt increases as prices fall, creating self-feeding spiral. This is what Fisher called the "swelling dollar" effect. Real debt costs rose by 40pc from 1929 to early 1933 by his count. Debtors suffocated to death. Brian Reading from Lombard Street Research has revived this neglected thesis and come up with some disturbing figures. US household debt is now $13.9 trillion, down just 1pc from its peak last year. Meanwhile household wealth has fallen 14pc as property crashes, a loss of $6.67 trillion. The debt-to-wealth ratio is rocketing."

Everything you knew about bonds and equities
"The broader picture is that this is the reversal of a 50 year relationship, one in which bond yields have been above equity yields. That trend is now about to be undone, by Edward.s estimation."

The corn isn't green
"H.L. Mencken once remarked that there is a "well-known solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong." That quote comes to mind when considering the vocal group of neoconservatives, agribusiness lobbyists, and politicians that claims that the best way to cut American oil imports, and thereby impoverish the petrostates (and, in theory, reduce terrorism), is to require automakers to manufacture "flex-fuel" cars that can burn motor fuel containing 85 percent ethanol or methanol."

Defaults and a near-death experience
"It is a remarkable fact that the United States, despite having the largest, strongest and richest economy in the world, has--and has always had--a banking and bank regulatory system that is an irrational mess."

After crappy decade, stocks always do great?
"There's a new refrain that a lot of folks keep repeating these days: When stocks do as badly as they have over the past decade, they usually do great over the following decade. Sadly, like a lot of stock market refrains, it's not really true."

Stock market finally at fair value
"The good news, however, is that, after 15 years of being overvalued, the S&P 500 is finally priced to deliver an average long-term return: about 9%-10% in nominal terms and 6% after adjusting for inflation. That's nothing to scream and yell about, but it's likely to be a lot better than cash."

The crisis and what to do about it
"The salient feature of the current financial crisis is that it was not caused by some external shock like OPEC raising the price of oil or a particular country or financial institution defaulting. The crisis was generated by the financial system itself. This fact - that the defect was inherent in the system - contradicts the prevailing theory, which holds that financial markets tend toward equilibrium and that deviations from the equilibrium either occur in a random manner or are caused by some sudden external event to which markets have difficulty adjusting. The severity and amplitude of the crisis provides convincing evidence that there is something fundamentally wrong with this prevailing theory and with the approach to market regulation that has gone with it. To understand what has happened, and what should be done to avoid such a catastrophic crisis in the future, will require a new way of thinking about how markets work."

Shipping floored
"An industry once plagued by insufficient capacity now sees ships stuck idle at port. Shipping is in crisis. The Baltic Dry Index which measures shipping costs in commodities sunk to its seventh weekly decline this week to 829 points, and is down more than 93 percent since hitting a record peak in May."

Is it all over for stocks?
"Stocks look like a pretty good investment - certainly better than they were a year ago. You absolutely shouldn't get out simply because the recent return numbers are scary. The latest bad news about the economy shouldn't drive you away either. Much of that is reflected in prices now. Even for many not-especially-brave investors, it's time to consider buying, not selling."

U.S. Treasuries head toward wekly loss
"Rates on one-month and three-month Treasury bills fell below zero as investors sacrificed interest-rate payments to protect their principal. Rates on one-month bills were minus 0.05 percent, and three-month rates were minus 0.01 percent."

When the golden eggs run out
"Risky assets look more attractive now than they have in ages. Corporate-bond spreads are sufficient to compensate for the kind of default levels seen in the Depression. Stockmarkets in America and Europe now offer a dividend yield that is higher than the yield on government bonds, something that has happened only rarely in the past 50 years."

Pursuit of an edge
"This particular type of market failure occurs when two conditions are met. First, people confront a gamble that offers a highly probable small gain with only a very small chance of a significant loss. Second, the rewards received by market participants depend strongly on relative performance. These conditions have caused the invisible hand to break down in multiple domains. In unregulated housing markets, for example, there are invariably too many dwellings built on flood plains and in earthquake zones. Similarly, in unregulated labor markets, workers typically face greater health and safety risks. It is no different in unregulated financial markets, where easy credit terms almost always produce an asset bubble."

The myths of market underperformance
"Most members of the media strive for accuracy in their reporting and work very hard to get the facts right. The problem - many of the assertions that get the highest profile are based on flawed analysis of past stock market performance by pundits who distort history to get media coverage for their alarmist claims or by well meaning commentators who quite simply get the facts wrong. Among the common cautionary claims about investing in the stock market: 1. Investors made no money in the market from the mid 60s to early 80s. 2. It took 25 years for the market to recover to the level reached in 1929. 3. When inflation is taken into account, investors have lost money for long periods of time."

The wealth effect in reverse
"The hyper-anxiety is not irrational pessimism, though it may prove unfounded. Every major episode of this crisis -- from Bear Stearns's failure to General Motors' possible bankruptcy -- has come as a surprise. Similarly, the crisis's three main causes have repeatedly been underestimated: the burst housing "bubble"; fragile financial institutions; and a reversal of the "wealth effect." Of these, the last is least recognized."

Disappointing diversification
"We argue that it is no accident that the age of restrictive capital accounts also saw remarkably low equity market correlations. Cross-border diversification opportunities identified by early papers (Grubel 1968) were indeed 'too good to be true.' Once investors can take advantage of low correlations elsewhere, they will rise. Initial investors may benefit since liberalisations tend to be followed by capital gains (Henry 2000). Yet risks will not fall anywhere near as much as initially hoped, as the covariance with other stock markets inevitably increases. In this sense, the gains from international diversification are akin - at least in part - to a Fata Morgana. Investors may chase it, only to discover that it perennially disappears in the distance."

Long-term opportunities amidst the fear
"This short essay covers three topics. First is a little perspective on recent events. Second are some thoughts on where we might go from here. And finally, a comment on the behavioral finance issues around what we are going through, with an emphasis on why it.s so hard to act in this type of an environment."

December surprise
"Before investors panic at the prospect of publicly-traded oil companies writing down hundreds of millions or billions of barrels of "proved reserves" for accounting disclosure purposes next year, they need to consider where the volumes in question will have gone. Were they merely shifted from the "proved" to "probable" category--thus not affecting the amount of oil that would ultimately be produced--by a temporary oil glut arising from a global recession, or did their existence depend on an oil-price bubble that is unlikely to reflate?"

Treasury traders paid to borrow
"Owners of Treasuries may soon get paid to borrow as the U.S. tries to break a logjam in the $7 trillion-a-day repurchase market. Treasuries are in such high demand that investors are lending cash for next to nothing to obtain the securities as collateral through so-called repos, which dealers use to finance their holdings. The problem is many parties involved in repos aren't delivering the bonds because there is no penalty for not doing so, causing 'fails' to exceed $5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York."

The limits of Apollo's power
"Part of the allure of private-equity honchos like Mr. Black is that they made an art out of making money during the boom years. Their fist-pounding negotiations were legendary. Their corporate turnarounds became Harvard Business School case studies. Their multiple homes, black-tie parties, sports cars and yachts were alternately envied and vilified. Today, with Wall Street in tatters and the easy money long gone, the question now for Mr. Black and his peers is whether they have enough moves left to turn the bleak outlook for private equity into something rosier for themselves, their companies, their investors and the legions of workers they employ."

Does extreme stress signal a snapback?
"Another encouraging sign is the shrinking value of U.S. stocks relative to nominal U.S. gross domestic product. At the market peak in 2000, stocks were valued at twice the size of the economy, but the relationship has adjusted this year to an estimated 59%, well below the long-term average of 79%. To get back to 79%, the S&P 500 would have to rise 36%, to 1,090. The relationship got as low as 40% in the late 1940s, when investors feared another depression, and in the inflationary 1970s."

And you thought 1931 was bad
"Even after Friday's large stock market rally, only 10 of the stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500, the premier American stock index, are higher than they were at the end of 2007, and the index itself is down almost as far as it was in the worst year it ever experienced, at the height of the Great Depression."

The most volatile market ever
"Over the last 50 trading days, the average absolute daily percentage change of the S&P 500 has been...wait for it...3.82%! That means the S&P 500 is averaging a daily move of up or down nearly 4%."

The unwisdom of crowds
"At the very opening of the book, Bagehot illustrates with exquisite simplicity how, at least in a boom economy, traders on margin can "harass and press upon, if they do not eradicate, the old capitalist." The old capitalist in question is the poor sap who believes all this stuff about neither-a-borrower-nor-a-lender-be and is foolish enough to be using his own cash"

All bets are off
"diversification has surely not offered the benefits most pension funds expected. Indeed, it may have had perverse results. In the old days, with equities trading at below-average valuations, funds would now be on a buying spree. They could afford to ignore the short-term risks because of the long-term nature of their liabilities. Pension funds thus acted as an automatic stabiliser for the market. This time round, that does not seem to be happening. One reason may be accounting changes which make pension-fund managers more focused on the short term. Another, however, may be the strategic drive to diversification. The Wall Street Journal has reported that CalPERS, America's largest public-pension fund, has been selling shares to meet commitments to put more money into private-equity firms."

Bad vibrations
"The great deleveraging, as it has become known, has also had a big impact on the currency markets. Many investors have been following a version of the 'carry trade', borrowing money in a low-yielding currency. All they had to do was earn a higher return from assets than the cost of their financing. Since the two big currencies with the lowest yields over the past year have been the dollar and the yen, those were the natural ones to borrow. When asset prices fall, however, this strategy is disastrous. Investors dash to sell assets and repay their debts. Since those debts were incurred in dollars and yen, that means they have to buy back those two currencies - hence their sharp recent rises."

World is 'drowning in oil' (again)
"Three months ago, the world was running out of oil. Seriously. I kid you not. Everywhere you turned, you heard whispers that the day of petroleum reckoning was at hand. Now there's too much oil, prodding OPEC to cut production targets for the first time in two years. Last week, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, confronted with the halving of oil prices since July, announced a 1.5 million barrel-a-day cut in output."

US market may be past a bottom
"While despair still prevails, there are finally certain hints to suggest that the US market may have bottomed, or at least, is in an advanced stage of bottoming."

Market bottom by year-end
"It is one of the ironies of stock-market timing that it is easier to forecast where the market will be in several years than where it will be in several days. And, according to a valuation model from a research firm with an excellent long-term record, the stock market is likely to be significantly higher in several years' time -- regardless of whether the final low of the last year's bear market has been seen."

Is buy-and-hold dead and gone?
"The evidence shows that most investors get it wrong over and over again. According to a study called the Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior by financial research firm Dalbar, over 20 years through the end of 2007, the average equity-fund investor earned an annualized return of just 4.5%, vs. the S&P 500's 11.8% return. Why? In large part because investors, chasing performance, shift money out of lagging funds and into hot ones at the wrong times. We buy high and sell low repeatedly."

Who's buying?
"Remember, when dealing with Mr. Market, fear is the cost of getting a good price. It looks very grim out there and it might get worse. But stock prices will reach their lowest when uncertainty reigns and expectations are at their lowest. Investors are currently very fearful and we think that it's time to get greedy."

Greasing the slide
"The great paradox of the sell-off, then, is that the factors that were supposed to increase the flow of information to investors, foster long-term thinking, and encourage contrarian positions did exactly the opposite. If there's a silver lining in all this, it's that investors who can endure past the present moment now have the chance to buy what at least look like very cheap stocks. Still, it's not surprising that investors have been unwilling to step up. It's hard enough to catch a falling knife. But it's nearly impossible when hedge funds are hurling it."

Diminishing ratios, booming yields
"With all the carnage in the markets, perhaps it's no surprised P/E ratios are on the decline. What's impressive is by how much."

Individual investor stock allocations
"Here's a terrific sentiment read: the amount of money individuals have exposed to equities relative to their historical average. The chart below shows equity allocations by individual investors above and below their normal 21 year mean allocation to stocks (the 21-year mean allocation to stocks is typically 60%). The present reading puts us 15% under the 21-year historical mean."

Why do markets create bubbles?
"Bubbles are like pornography: Everyone has his or her own opinion as to what qualifies, but it is impossible to pen a precise definition. If you wish to push the metaphor further, both are also fun for a while, if you like that sort of thing, but apt to end up making you feel deflated and embarrassed. Bubbles are also embarrassing for the economics profession. It's not that we have no idea what causes bubbles to form, it's that we have too many ideas for comfort. Some explanations are psychological. Some point out that many bubbles have been stoked not by markets but by governments. There is even a school of thought that some famous bubbles weren't bubbles at all."

US stock market returns
"This analysis clearly shows the strong long-term relationship between real returns and the level of valuation at which the investment was made."

The case for buying oil stocks
"Last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency released its World Energy Outlook 2008 - a 578-page book full of future supply, demand, and price estimates which this year also included an eagerly-awaited study of 800 of the world's largest oil fields. Here's the executive summary: Buy oil stocks."

Did hated speculators lower oil prices?
"Whither the speculators? They were this summer's front-page news, the subject of congressional hearings, editorials and nightly newscasts. The claimed culprits of oil's price rise, everyone fell over themselves to be tougher on them."

Online shopping and the Harry Potter effect
"Her findings suggest that the long tail is far from the revolution Anderson claimed. The tail is indeed getting longer, but isn't, as Anderson thought, growing fat with choice. Instead it is getting both flatter and thinner, filled with ever more products that sell few or no copies. Low overheads or no overheads, that kind of long tail is not a rich man's world, least of all for producers. Suppliers are always going to be better off concentrating on the mass-market money-spinners, says Elberse."

Should you invest in the long tail?
"It was a compelling idea: In the digitized world, there.s more money to be made in niche offerings than in blockbusters. The data tell a different story."

Tobin's Q indicates 'horrific' market bottom
"The 2008 slump in global equities has further to go if Tobin's Q ratio is any guide, according to CLSA Ltd. strategist Russell Napier. The ratio, a method of valuing U.S. companies developed by Nobel Prize laureate economist James Tobin, indicates that the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, set for its worst year since 1931, may sink by another 55 percent to 400 when the market bottoms around 2014, London-based Napier said. The ratio divides total market capitalization by the cost of replacing assets."

Wheat from chaff
"The bottom line is simple. Stocks are a claim on a long-term stream of future cash flows. Even if one allows for a terrible and surprisingly deep continuation of the current recession, stocks appear reasonably priced or undervalued based on a careful analysis of long-term cash flow prospects."

Stingy Links: McElvaine

Buy CBS shares
"CBS has $40-billion in assets and is trading at a price/earnings multiple of five times. Mr. McElvaine began nibbling away at the stock last Friday and bought more on Monday, when the Canadian stock market was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. As he sees it, CBS is in a number of different businesses that, combined, are worth at least twice what the stock is trading at."

Stingy Links: Miller

Bill Miller Q3 2008 commentary
"There is little dispute among knowledgeable investors that U.S. (and global) equities are extraordinarily attractive on a wide variety of measures based on historical standards. The worry is they may go a lot lower before they eventually recover, as the current crisis unfolds and as the economy undoubtedly gets worse. This worry is legitimate. After all, to most of us, stocks seemed quite cheap at the end of September, and now they are a whole lot cheaper. So what to do? The data indicate there is now a mountain of cash on the sidelines, enough in money market funds to buy about half the market capitalization of the S&P 500."

Stingy Links: Montier

Montier: 'Analysts are rubbish'
"Seemingly everyone, on both sides of the Atlantic, is now taking about recession. Even Mervyn King. So why, asks SocGen's James Montier in his latest issue of Mind Matters, is the investment research industry still predicting earnings growth of between 12 and 15 per cent? He's got a chart to illustrate that analysts are exceptionally good at one thing and one thing alone - telling you what has just happened."

Montier has 'never been more bullish"
"Societe Generale SA strategist James Montier said he's never been so bullish after the financial crisis dragged down prices for stocks, corporate bonds and inflation-protected government debt."

Stingy Links: Munger

Dimon, Munger, Rohatyn: No more vegas
"Munger wants Wall Street balance sheets reduced by 70% and insists that the firms "be a market maker, a broker, an underwriter and a custodian of securities but not the hedge funds they have become." He wants to restrict leverage to 50% on every securities transaction except for the Treasury trading desk where "you're dealing with the safest securities around." That 50% margin level, incidentally, is the maximum that ordinary investors can obtain from their broker when they purchase common stock. Before their respective demises, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were leveraged to the tune of $30 of debt for every $1 of capital."

Stingy Links: Neff

Former Vanguard guru is buying stocks
"In a small office in West Conshohocken, a legendary stock market bottom feeder has been having a feast. John B. Neff, who racked up record gains as manager of Vanguard's Windsor Fund over three decades, is buying stocks again."

Stingy Links: Real Estate

Canada may face housing bust: Shiller
"The Canadian housing market could face a similar housing bust to the United States, particularly in more bubbly markets as Vancouver and Calgary, said Robert Shiller, the Yale University professor who predicted both the 1990s stock market boom and bust and the US housing slump."

The American Dream?
"Using a unique data set that links up well-being and housing consumption, this paper sets out to measure systematic differences between homeowners and renters, in term of moment-to-moment emotions, life satisfaction, joy and pain derived from domains of life including home and neighbourhood, family life and time use. A remarkable similarity between homeowners and renters is found. Controlling for demographics and income, homeowners do not report higher levels of well-being by any measure in this data set. In fact, they report to be less healthy, derive less joy from love and relationships, spend less time with friends and on active leisure, and also experience less positive affect during time spent with friends. Their time use patterns reveal little evidence of them being "better citizens". Due to self-selection in the housing tenure choice, these results are likely to represent upper bounds of the causal benefits of homeownership. Homeowners who live in ZIP code areas with higher rates of homeownership report more positive attitudes only if other owners are similar to them in socio-economic terms, lending some support to the idea of beneficial social interaction among owners."

Foreclosures soar 76%
"This means that one in 10 borrowers in America are either delinquent or in foreclosure. Many of those troubled borrowers are in California and Florida, which have among the highest delinquency rates in the nation."

How high-risk mortgages crept north
"The untold story of how elements of the first Conservative budget in 2006 encouraged big U.S. players such as AIG to make a push into Canada, creating our version of subprime mortgages"

Home prices seem far from bottom
"Home prices across much of the country are likely to fall through late 2009, economists say, and in some markets the trend could last even longer depending on the severity of the anticipated recession. In hard-hit areas like California, Florida and Arizona, the grim calculus is the same: More and more homes are going up for sale, but fewer and fewer people are willing or able to buy them. Adding to the worries nationwide are rising unemployment, falling wages and escalating mortgage rates - all of which will reduce the already diminished pool of would-be buyers."

Stingy Links: Shiller

Challenging the crowd in whispers
"I clearly remember a taxi driver in Miami explaining to me years ago that the housing bubble there was getting crazy. With all the construction under way, which he pointed out as we drove along, he said that there would surely be a glut in the market and, eventually, a disaster. But why weren.t the experts at the Fed saying such things? And why didn.t a consensus of economists at universities and other institutions warn that a crisis was on the way?"

Stingy Links: Stocks

What's in a name?
"Underlying the best brands are usually sales pitches of great stuff. Macs don't crash. The iPhone 3G is fast. FedEx gets there every time. The Lexus parks itself. Canon is the professional's camera. Even Pepsi - the company that more or less created modern branding with the slogan "The Taste of a New Generation" - decided in the end that, actually, it was easier to sell soda with the Pepsi Challenge taste test. At the very top of the Interbrand list you will find Coca-Cola, the great outlier of the brand world. Far from the model of how brands work, Coke is the great exception. The vast majority of great brandmakers knows that you cannot sell products by telling people about your brand - you can sell your brand only by telling them about the product."

News you can lose
"The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they've arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism's content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it's because people are abandoning its products. But people don't use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don't have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn't the Internet; it's us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That's a consumer's dream, but eventually it's going to collide with reality: if newspapers. profits vanish, so will their product."

$73 an hour: adding it up
"That figure - repeated on television and in newspapers as the average pay of a Big Three autoworker - has become a big symbol in the fight over what should happen to Detroit. To critics, it is a neat encapsulation of everything that's wrong with bloated car companies and their entitled workers. To the Big Three's defenders, meanwhile, the number has become proof positive that autoworkers are being unfairly blamed for Detroit's decline."

Profit from panic
"The "other Berkshire" is Fairfax Financial a P&C insurer headed by brilliant capital allocator Prem Watsa. Fairfax is about as close as you can get to investing in a company that does great in good markets and exceptionally well in disastrous ones."

'Already bankrupt' GM won't be rescued by loan
"For General Motors Corp., the question is no longer whether it will get a government loan or if Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner will be replaced. It's whether anything can prevent the largest U.S. automaker from sliding into bankruptcy."

Stingy Links: Taleb

A conversation with Nassim Taleb
"A conversation about economics with Nassim Taleb author of "The Black Swan""

Rippling economic turbulence
"As the financial sector shifts, so does the reach of the jolt to economic structures around the world. Economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his mentor, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, speak with Paul Solman about chain reactions and predicting the financial crisis."

Stingy Links: Taxes

Self-employed? Make sure business is for real
"Take a business-like approach to pursuing revenues in your business. Have a marketing plan, and be prepared to explain how you plan to increase revenues over time. Next, make sure you understand, and can explain, what it will take to be profitable (how many widgets you need to sell, how many performances you need to make, etc.). Finally, try to avoid reporting losses for more than a couple of years. This could raise a flag on your tax return."

Stingy Links: Thrift

The IBM fortune and the funeral home director
"A couple of months ago, Robert McDevitt died at 90 in Binghamton, N.Y., my hometown. He ran a nice-enough but unremarkable funeral home near the center of town, about two blocks from where my parents now live. Over the past week, his will has become public, revealing that while McDevitt spent his time embalming local bodies and soothing mourners -- he was worth $250 million."

Where have all your savings gone?
"For American and European savers it has been a lost decade. After two booms and two busts, stockmarkets have earned them nothing, or less, in the past ten years. Low interest rates have made bonds and bank deposits unrewarding too. Were it not for the tax relief they receive, contributors to personal pension plans would have been better off keeping their money under their mattresses. It will be little consolation to Westerners that savers in Japan have known this empty feeling for far longer."

The new age of frugality
"On a shady lane in New Hope, Pa., a quiet revolution in American culture may be taking shape. Here, a family of four lives in a white, colonial-style house in a manner that once would have been considered All-American but more recently has been seen as just plain weird: They're frugal."

A return to thrift
"Sometimes it takes a near-death experience to change bad behavior. Think of your friend who quit Lucky Strikes after a coronary incident. Or look at how banks are reducing their dependency on debt after watching rivals go belly-up. On Wall Street this process of reducing debt relative to equity is called deleveraging. Main Street should be deleveraging too."

Stingy Links: Value Investing

The market's silver linings
"Bolton's reasons for optimism aren't macroeconomic; the UK is almost certainly in recession for the first time in almost two decades. But he believes the high level of dividend yields compared to gilt yields, and the large cash positions in mutual funds and hedge funds, are good indicators that the market's fortunes may be about to change. "In some sectors, I'm seeing the lowest valuations I've seen in more than 30 years," Bolton says. He says he likes the look of the consumer cyclical sectors, such as the general retailers and media stocks. "Media has underperformed the market for the last seven consecutive years, and both [retail and media] are unloved by institutional investors [at the moment]," he says."

Leucadia's unmined potential
"Leucadia National may be the closest thing to what Berkshire Hathaway was 20 years ago, before Berkshire became so large that Warren Buffett needed investments of several billion dollars to move the needle."

Patient Capital Q3
"The next several quarters are likely to be quite difficult but out of these difficulties will emerge the opportunity to create portfolios of great businesses that will offer the potential for a substantial return over the next five years. For the first time in a long time we are starting to feel excited about the returns available to the prudent and patient investor!"

A contrarian gets the last laugh
"Vito Maida says he's lucky. But he could just as easily say, "I told you so." More than four years ago, with stock prices roaring upward and a global real estate boom gaining pace, the Toronto money manager sat down to pen his thoughts on the markets, and realized that his views were out of step with the rest of the financial world."

We're not dead yet
"In our opinion someone who says quant equity investing has no future is basically saying that value and momentum will no longer work to pick investments. As we noted above we can see where people get this idea. Many investors using these strategies have had poor recent performance, and it.s clear that these strategies are no longer a secret. Although we can't 'prove' that quant investing has a future, we can demonstrate that quant strategies have had a successful long-term past - and that their recent performance is not inconsistent with this track record."

America for sale: price reduced
"At the depths of the 1973-74 bear market -- the worst of the post-war period -- when the Dow Jones industrial average was approaching its low of 577, Warren Buffett told Forbes magazine that he felt like "an oversexed guy in a whorehouse. This is the time to start investing." Buffett's words may have been indelicate -- Forbes ended up changing the world "whorehouse" to "harem" when the interview ran -- but the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway was on the mark because that era produced some of the best bargains of the past 50 years."

Q3 2008 Oakmark commentary
"In fact, we believe the decline in the market has created a very attractive environment for investing new capital. For most people, the right question to ask after a big decline is: 'Should I be investing more?'"

Concentrated value investing
"Mohnish Pabrai, the Managing Partner of the Pabrai Investment Funds, has outperformed market indices over the last nine years by consistently believing in concentrated value investing. Pabrai likes to hold fewer stocks positioned in industries that he understands well, paying attention to two key variables: the intrinsic value of a business and its current price."

Think long
"It is also possible to see bargains at the individual stock level. Both BP and Shell have a dividend yield equal to, or higher than, their p/e: an old rule of thumb for value investors. True, the oil price is falling sharply, but shares in oil companies lagged well behind the crude prices when it was soaring to $147 a barrel."

Stingy Links: Watsa

Wall Street winner: buy now
"With the S&P drop year-to-date of 50% -- not seen since 1931 -- and how worried the investment community is, it just seemed to us a lot of fear may already be discounted in the stock markets. You can't say this is the bottom, markets are a discounting mechanism and certainly still can go down some; however, we thought it was an appropriate time to close our equity index hedges."

The man who beat the shorts
"Born in India, Watsa graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and moved to western Ontario in 1972 at age 22. Penniless, he lived with relatives while getting his M.B.A. from the University of Western Ontario and moonlighting at night selling air conditioners and furnaces. After taking over, and renaming, an underwriter of trucking policies called Markel, he added a dozen property and casualty insurers, among them the well-known New Jersey firm Crum & Forster and TIG Holdings, once part of San Francisco's Transamerica. Taking over management of the investments, Watsa produced (according to Fairfax) a compound annual return from 1993 to 2007 on its stock portfolio of 19.5% (versus 10.4% for the S&P 500) and on its bond portfolio of 10.1% (versus 6.6% for a Merrill Lynch bond index). One of his earliest backers--and later a friend--was famed investor Sir John Templeton, who died this year at age 95."

The reluctant CEO of the year
"Only a handful of financial companies worldwide are in better shape now than before this crisis started. Fairfax Financial is one of them. CEO Prem Watsa managed to make $2 billion and thumb his nose at his opponents at the same time"

Stingy Links: Whitman

Third Avenue Q4 2008
"In other words, deep value and high quality alone are not sufficient conditions for investing in common stocks. Deep value pricing and high quality assets must be accompanied by creditworthiness, and it's super hard to be credit worthy today if a corporation has to access credit markets for loan instruments other than demand deposits."

Whitman sampler of value stocks
"Few investors in the market today are as bear-market-seasoned and savvy as Marty Whitman, 84-year-old founder of M.J. Whitman LLC, chairman and founder of Third Avenue Management and portfolio manager of Third Avenue Value Fund. Like Sam Zell, Leon Black and Eddie Lampert, Whitman's roots are in distressed-company investing."

Stingy Links: World

Trickledown meltdown
"In this very poor corner of Bangladesh, where rice farmers get by on household incomes of less than $1 a day, where the most popular mode of transportation is the pedal-rickshaw and where life doesn't seem to have changed for centuries, it's hard to believe that anyone could be affected by the crisis that has humbled Wall Street and Canary Wharf. But the credit crunch is the main topic of conversation in the rice paddies and village bazaars here. It is hard to find anyone, from vegetable sellers to floor sweepers, whose life has not been affected by the collapse of institutions in New York and London."

The great unraveling
"The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I've never been asked before: 'So, just how corrupt is America?'"

Why the ECB can't fix Europe
"The European Central Bank joined the United States Federal Reserve and other major central banks in cutting key interest rates by half a point on Wednesday in a concerted move to stabilize financial markets and avert recession, but the ECB's power to stem the financial crisis in Europe is limited, economists say."

Russia and the crisis
"Dmitry Medvedev dreams of turning Moscow into a global financial centre, but he has an awful long way to go. For Russia.s markets have slumped. Even after recent one-day rallies, the dollar-denominated RTS index and the rouble-denominated MICEX index have shed around two-thirds of their value since mid-May (see chart). These falls are bigger than in any other emerging markets, dealing a blow to Kremlin claims that Russia is a safe haven from global financial turmoil."

Iceland takes over Kaupthing
"'It's difficult to find any parallels to what's happening in Iceland in the industrialized world,' Jensen said. 'You'd have to look to emerging markets, and after the Asian crisis, for example, those economies contracted about 10 percent.' The debts of the Icelandic banking system are too big for the government to repay. 'There is no way that the Icelandic population can assume responsibility for the private debt' that the banks have built up, Haarde said yesterday."

An axis in need of oiling
"In sum, Iran, Russia and Venezuela are all likely to be left short of cash - and facing a diminution in their international clout. 'Never confuse brilliance with a bull market,' goes a Wall Street saying. The leaders of the oily trio may have thought high oil prices were an adequate substitute for good governance. In many quarters, the difference is now painfully clear."

Are we watching the death of OPEC?
"The plunge from $148 a barrel to $50 a barrel in less than five months has opened huge fissures in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Some members, such as Iran and Venezuela, are desperate to raise oil prices so they can balance their national accounts. More-conservative members, such as Saudi Arabia, can balance their budgets even at current prices and have room to fear they will be the scapegoats if the global recession deepens."

The next crisis -- Africa
"The recent drop in oil and other commodity prices makes it almost a certainty that some unstable commodity-exporting nations will reach a crisis stage in the next few months. The only question is, which countries are likely to erupt first?"

A sea of unwanted imports
"Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the country. But these are not ordinary times. For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property."

Suddenly vulnerable
"In two respects, however, India has a big advantage over China in coping with an economic slowdown. It has all-too extensive experience in it; and it has a political system that can cope with disgruntlement without suffering existential doubts. India pays an economic price for its democracy. Decision-making is cumbersome. And as in China, unrest and even insurgency are widespread. But the political system has a resilience and flexibility that China's own leaders, it seems, believe they lack. They are worrying about how to cope with protests. India's have their eyes on a looming election."

Stingy Links: Zweig

Take a deep breath, calm yourself
"You can catch other people's emotions as easily as you can catch a cold. In an experiment by neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps at New York University, people either watched someone else get a mildly painful electric shock or suffered the shock themselves. Their brain responses and their dread before the shock were highly similar in both cases, suggesting that seeing another person's fear is all it takes to make us afraid. Even encountering the circumstances under which the other person was shocked is enough to trigger your own fear. Viewed this way, today's financial markets -- in which tens of millions of investors watch each other's fears unfolding in real time on television and online -- constitute one giant panic-transmission machine."

Frugally Yours,
Norman Rothery
ISSN 1499-2787

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