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Wednesday, April 02, 2014 – Speak Your Mind by Blowing Your Wad

Speak Your Mind by Blowing Your Wad
by Sinclair Noe

DOW + 40 = 16,573
SPX + 5 = 1890
NAS + 8 = 4276
10 YR YLD + .04 = 2.80%
OIL – 33 = 99.29
GOLD + 10.10 = 1290.90
SILV + .22 = 20.08
The S&P 500 closed at another record high.
The Commerce Department reported that orders to US factories rose 1.6% in February, the most in five months. January’s durable goods orders were revised to show a larger drop of 1.0% instead of the previously reported decline of 0.7%. Yesterday, the Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index rose in March.
A private survey showed that US companies stepped up their hiring in March. Payroll processer ADP said private employers added 191,000 jobs. ADP also revised February’s job creation up to 153,000 from the 139,000 figure reported earlier. The report comes ahead of the government’s monthly jobs report, scheduled to be released on Friday; the over-under number for Friday is 200,000 net new jobs.
We know the Federal Reserve will be watching the jobs report. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaking to reporters at his branch of the central bank, said a formal rate rise is “still a considerable distance away.” Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said today: “Based on my working medium-term outlook, I see the latter half of 2015 as the likely time frame for the first move to higher rates,” but if the economy doesn’t grow as he current expects, Lockhart thinks, “a later liftoff date… will likely be appropriate.”
Lately bad weather was cited as the reason that Walmart and FedEx and Delta’s earnings were disappointing.  If it isn’t one-time charges that happen every quarter being removed from reported results, it’s the weather being blamed. Of course, even if the weather truly was awful enough to prevent people from shopping, or buying a house, that demand should simply show up in a later month. A certain amount of productive capacity is lost, but pent up demand should rev things right back up again. The March jobs report won’t be the final word on the weather and the economy, but if we don’t see some sort of significant improvement, then we are running out of bad weather excuses.
Russian, American, and European diplomats continue to talk about settlement talks that might halt further Russian military action in Ukraine; Crimea is a done deal, but Ukraine is another matter. NATO will suspend “all practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia because of its annexation of Crimea, saying it has seen no sign that Moscow was withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border.
Meanwhile, Gazprom, the Russian energy company has fired a shot across the bow, raising the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas. The price jumped from $268 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas to $385, or about a 44% increase. Gazprom execs attributed the price increase to an unpaid debt for gas. This is not the first time energy has been used as an economic weapon, nor will it be the last.
The US has been undergoing an oil and gas renaissance; the White House has promoted exploration and drilling, and output has jumped. When it comes to natural gas, the US is being compared to Saudi Arabia, or Saudi America. Of course, that provided no advantage to thwart Putin’s aggression in Crimea. One reason Saudi America has failed to instill fear in Russia is that we lack the capacity to export LNG to Europe, and probably won’t be able to export in any significant quantities for a few more years; and then it would probably be a few more years before Ukraine could build facilities to receive such exports.
Meanwhile, we ran into a rash of reports in the past week or so, all telling us that our reliance on fossil fuels is killing us. The American Association for the Advancement of Society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the World Meteorological Organization all confirmed that the planet is getting hotter; 13 of the past 14 years have been the hottest ever recorded. The Antarctic ice shelf is melting, Greenland too; the rain forests are dying and the Gulf Stream is collapsing. It’s not just the melting ice and the poor polar bears; the reports warn of very human problems of hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees, violence, and war.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention, and the time is now for innovation; and the good news is that there are inventors who have been working on these problems and have created solutions; the bad news is that the status quo and the powers that be are entrenched. This is a defining moment, and energy is being used as an economic weapon, and that weapon is pointed directly at our own foot.
And the entrenched powers just became more entrenched. The Supreme Court has struck down the aggregate campaign contribution limits, opening the gates for even more money to flood into the political system. The good news is we have the best politicians money can buy. The bad news is we have the best politicians money can buy. The 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia; Justice Thomas went a step further and called for a complete end to campaign finance reform.
The decision relies heavily on the assertion in the 2010 Citizens United ruling that influence and access are not a corruption concern. This means that a single donor will soon be able to contribute millions of hard dollars in limited contributions, to political parties, candidates and political action committees.
Federal law sets certain limits, so you can’t just go write a candidate a check for a million dollars and call it a day. That means you can’t give more than $2,600 to any one candidate per election. Even if you were to donate once in the primary election and again in the general, the absolute most you could give to an individual candidate’s campaign is $5,200. And you can’t, or couldn’t just spread money across the board. For the 2013-2014 election cycle, Federal Election Commission rules state that a donor can give no more than $123,200 to all political committees, with two sub-limits of $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to political parties and political action committees. In other words, there was a limit, a cap on aggregate spending. Those limits are no more.
 Now, a single donor can now give more than $5 million in individually limited contributions to every House candidate, every Senate candidate, every state party committee, every national party committee and every leadership PAC connected to one political party. The McCutcheon ruling also did away with the aggregate limit on donations to political action committees, or PACs, which can give money directly to candidates. While there’s a limit on how much PACs can give to each candidate, there’s no limit on the number of PACs that can exist. Without the aggregate limit, one donor can now give $5,000 each to 1,000 different PACs. And those 1,000 PACs can turn around and funnel that money straight to one candidate. Which means that one candidate could haul in $5 million in direct contributions from one donor, funneled through a network of PACs.
So, if you have a big wad of money that you would like to waste on buying politicians, the Supreme Court has just ruled that you can blow your wad just a freely as you can speak your mind.
The new Michael Lewis book, “Flash Boys” looks at High Frequency Traders front running trades, using technology to jump in front of a trade and skim some profits. The uproar from Wall Street has been hilarious. There are claims that front running isn’t really bad; it doesn’t hurt ordinary investors; it may actually add to liquidity, blah, blah, blah. This is kind of like saying a mafia hit man is good for the neighborhood because he spends his money at the local grocery store and he hasn’t killed anybody on my street.
As we said the other day, High Frequency traders front running the market is not new; it has been going on for years, but the book and the 60 Minutes interview and the publicity finally caught the attention of otherwise somnambulant sleuths at the FBI who are investigating front running, which is a criminal offense. Where this could get interesting is that the High Frequency Trading firms set up shop in close proximity to the stock markets in New York, and they pay for high speed access to the exchanges’ computer systems and data.
The New York Stock Exchange calls it “fully managed co-location space next to the NYSE Euronext’s US trading engines in a new state of the art data center”. The NYSE is the landlord. And they can set up the “super high density” fiber optic connections for an initial fee of $7,000, or a onetime upgrade fee of $9,200. In other words, the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq are complicit in the skimming operation. I didn’t hear Lewis or 60 Minutes talk about that, but that is the ugly truth.
The other funny thing about the Michael Lewis book and interview is the notion that some clever fellows, backed by hedge fund guru David Einhorn and a few other Wall Street big dogs, had come up with a clever technical fix in a new and better exchange called IEX.  Protected by a spool of fiber to ward off the high frequency traders like garlic against vampires. Free market triumphs, mission accomplished. Don’t even think about a minimum transaction tax, a speed bump rule such as a minimum order duration, or anything more comprehensive than that.

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