Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yeah! What HE Said: Fareed Z on the 9-9-9 Plan

You have to understand: complexity equals corruption. Americas corruption is institutionalized and legal. The US tax system is not just corrupt. It is corrupt in a deceptive manner that has degraded the entire system of American government. Congress is able to funnel vast sums of money in perpetuity to its favored founders through the tax code without anyone realizing it. The simplest way to get the corruption out of Washington is to remove the prize that members of Congress give away. A flatter tax code with almost no exemptions does that The simplest fix to our tax code would be to lower the income tax dramatically, lower the corporate tax, and instead tie revenues through a national sales tax or value added tax. The US is the only rich country in the world without a national sales tax What is the appeal of a consumption tax? First, it's efficient. Lower fraud. More stable. Reduces consumption and borrowing at the household level.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Goldman needs Privacy

At one point this week, the headline was:

Roiled by op-ed, Goldman loses $2.15 bn m-cap

Goldman didn't get where it was by being a public company. It was a partnership for the first 130 years before going public only 13 years ago. Those have been a pretty awful 13 years for the firm.

The latest round of headline-generators and talking head fodder would have never happened if Goldman were still private. The dude wouldn't have even had the motivation to publish the op-ed. The Times wouldn't have cared to print it. Nobody outside the firm would care to read it.

Instead, over the course of a few hours of stock trading, value was "destroyed" to the tune of ... well, more money than 99.999% of the world's population will see in their lifetimes. Actually, add a few more 9's after the decimal. Billions. With a "B." As in Buffett-sized.

Or was it? If a whiny Dear John to a former employer full of news (which, as Forbes pointed out, everybody already knew) can destroy billions of bucks, then maybe that value didn't really exist to begin with. Stepping back from the greater fool theory, perhaps GS should be valued based on the discounted cash flows it can generate. Novel concept, eh? Maybe I should write a book and teach at Wharton.

Then again, maybe my book should take a different approach. Perhaps Goldman should never have become GS in the first place. Perhaps a financial firm with ridiculous leverage ratios, a wacky capital structure, a penchant for mercenary dealings (AIG collateral call ring a bell?)  needs a small, concentrated, captive based of owners rather than a whole "street" of busybodies to answer to.

The only way Goldman's stock has impressed is in its volatility. It hasn't even doubled over the past 10 years. Hardly a good investment. The management has never been able to find an acceptable balance between staff incentives and shareholder value. Perhaps no such balance can exist for more than a few microseconds. Perhaps GS is an unstable element with a short halflife. Maybe they're in a constant state of containing the meltdown, hoping it wont Fukushima on them tomorrow ... or the next day. Perhaps this is distracting them from their "day jobs" of making deals with and on behalf of clients.

Nice adventure, guys, but it's time to take your marbles and go home. Cash in the chips and go private.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Woah, China!

Forget The Vest ... fear THIS:
On Monday, China's premier Wen Jiabao lowered the economy's growth target to 7.5 percent from 8 percent, where it has stood for years.  - AP
Early, of course, to sing a dirge but China's "golden era" of ridiculous growth at all costs seems to be getting a bit more expensive these days. Expect to SLOWLY see:
  • Reduction in expenditures for extravagant infrastructure projects
  • Asset management shift from their current stance (overweight US Treasuries) to something more akin to Singapore's Temasek
  • A review of the commercial tax and licensing structure (hopefully not a Chinese Raj)
  • A harder line on international trade, both in terms of limitations and in terms of tariffs
  • An attempt to diversify labor-intensive businesses across labor pools (inner-China manufacturing zones, African investment zones) 
  • Industrialization deeper into inner-China
  • All of which will help pay for increased, but highly-targeted social support funding including medical care and pensions, as well as their continued military build-up
  • Targeted efforts to increase enforcement, probably with a focus on IP law, financial regulation, governance (as the Economist said a few weeks back, the Chinese government is the only group that has actually read the entire Dodd-Frank act)
  • Maybe even some efforts to address environmental sustainability issues