Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Poorhouse For FIREmen

Just about every civilian (i.e. a non-finance professional) thinks that a Crash is the way to send financiers to the poorhouse en masse. Wrong - just as it is completely wrong to think that casinos go bust because too many people win. The truth is, of course, completely different.

The FIRE Casino (finance, insurance, real estate) feeds on the Two Vees: Volume and Volatility. Thus, it goes bust only when no one wants to play, when the market is flat and volumes shrink. This hasn't happened in a long, long time. The last time, when brokers became cabbies, was the 1970's. The Dow literally yawned its way through that entire decade, fluctuating a mere 100 points around the 900 mark (with one exception - see chart below).

When Brokers Became Cab Drivers

You see, the house doesn't really care about "How The Dow" (though it does prefer it to go up because it then captures the hoi polloi's imagination and induces more participation by the marks - remember dotcom daytraders?).

As I said, market makers feed on volume and volatility, not direction. And there's the rub: so far volatility has been immense and volumes quite strong - at least in equity markets. The prediction, therefore, is that this whole crisis thing won't be over until ... you guessed it... volatility drops sharply and volumes tank - and cab companies get job requests from unusually well educated applicants.

Note: I'm off on business for a week (green business, by the way) and will try to post ad hoc.


  1. Hi hell,

    You get it right IMHO.

    So as long as I can have fantasy-land multiples on my retail trader account with next-to-no accountability, I believe that this volatility is here to stay.

    As far as I understand the Turkish bourse has offered superb opportunities for those who could catch them. I expect to be able to be long any markets within two years.

    And that is why I have moved from the saver's profile to a more aggresive use of leverage. I'm getting up to speed on trading skills. Mostly mental ones.

    Could you thank Bernanke and al for their great support.

    This fiat money system will end up very badly. How can anyone believe in its survival chances when its mains supporter are a communist Nomenklatura.

    That will end in tears. Litteraly speaking.

  2. Thanks Hell, quite informative and makes sense!

  3. Very interesting. Thanks for quite an original take on this subject. I think I must still be incredibly naive in many respects. I wouldn't have imagined this outcome, not in the least...

  4. What you say is true about volatility, but too much of it in markets has roughly the same importance as too many wild swings on an electrocardiogram.

    The hoi in hoi polloi means the,
    thus "the hoi polloi" is redundant.

  5. "I'm off on business for a week (green business, by the way) and will try to post ad hoc."

    Good for you Hell. Hope you talk about your endeavors. Safe travels.

  6. "Simply put, even professionals have no idea whatever which way the market will "break" (up or down) and are thus sitting on their hands."

    When exactly did the so called professionals have any idea?

  7. Its not the brokers I'm thinking about. Its the number of corrupt executives who inflated their company accounts and cooked their books. Its those people who walked away with fat bonuses after artificially creating a false profit. They should be caught and punished. Tarring and feathering them would be a good start.

  8. @ Yau-ming:

    "...artificially creating a false profit...."

    We used to call that fraud; but I think now we call it "innovative financial products."

  9. Now, I'm probably wrong about this, since I'm a neophyte, but isn't it all those sophisticated accounting techniques that make this "fraud" possible ? That turn fraud into something different ? (Words again, my friends...)

  10. Re: Green business

    Curious. I'd like to hear your opinions on what are the brightest green ideas emerging.

    My Brother-in-law in San Diego put solar panels on his roof and now some months he actually winds up getting paid from the utility company (selling excess to the grid).

    Wouldn't work in my state (overcast WA) using today's technology. But then we're still eco-superior since we don't have to import water (IMHO).

    Worthless trivia: 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border.

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  12. If unemployment increases, incomes, spending power decrease and the market outlook remains stagnate at best, one might think that individual market participation would decrease. Eventually volume via decreased individual participation would decrease.

    I mean, in the 90's participation and volume increased in conjunction with increased employment and participation in self directed retirement accounts. So wouldn't the opposite be true now.

  13. I've noticed my favorite TV program 'Tegenlicht' is available on youtube with English subtitles. You may want to see "The day of the dollar" (2005!).
    It is about a hypothetical dollar crash in one day. What is interesting is that everyone in it is real: main stream journalists, newsreaders, commentators. Even the banker at the end who, following the script, says he really didn't see it coming is really on the board of directors of a very large bank.

    That bank is now in very big trouble.


    It is made by VPRO, a public broadcasting compagny known for its excellent documentaries. More can be found on www.vpro.nl/backlight.

  14. www.youtube.com/watcg?v=AuPgdZeAFjA


  15. @ dink

    Be happy you live in WA, if memory serves, your state is the leading state in terms of % energy from renewable resources (hydroelectric).
    You have water and cheap electricity (esp. in future when black energy gets even more expensive).


  16. @ Mox

    Thanks for the confirmation that WA rocks :)

    Of course a lot of our hydroelectric was built with gov funds during the Depression to keep workers busy. And I'm sure it took an ungodly amount of petroleum.

    Now there's talk of turbines to take advantage of the abundant turbulence in the Columbia Basin ("Graveyard of the Pacific") which lies on the border between WA and OR.

    I've driven along the Columbia River and can confirm that its also damn windy (but scenic) so perhaps another energy source to be tapped. We've also got a volcano or two that we might be able to manipulate for some geothermal.

    I was watching part of the Chris Martenson crash course again recently. Man, we really gotta do something and FAST.

  17. You insult the real and brave firemen by using their name to identify the walk dead of Wall Street. Bad thinking on your part Mr Hell.

  18. I think volatility has another side to it. But in the long run, it might wear things out too much.

  19. While the cat's away, the mice will play...

    I recommend that all of you go see "Slumdog Millionaire".
    The film, among other things, spotlights the massive corruption that money has brought about in our civilisation.
    The young man's attitude towards money, his "apragmatism", is a slap in the face directed towards its power, and those who build their castles in the sky, their towers of Babel based on it.
    The colossal sums he is winning on the caricatural game show (THAT, a game ?...) he is participating in mean nothing to him.
    What's important to him is NOT MONEY, it's LOVE, and not the tinseltown kind either.
    Sorry to sound like Cinderalla to all of you, but the film is attracting crowds all over the planet.
    Yesterday, the movie theater was packed.
    Other people are tired of all this corruption too...

  20. ..."has brought?"

    Can you send me a link to the time/place in world history when it was less corrupt?

    I am truly curious to see what they did right back then.

  21. Thai, you are probably right.
    Globalisation has made things much worse.
    Maybe the problem is also so much worse because there are just too many of us ?
    Maybe it all is a quantitative issue ?
    I like to think not.
    I still think that you should see the movie.
    Just so that you can see that not everyone is corrupted by money.
    I was reading this morning in the preface of a book by Bernard Maris about the civilisation that Claude Levi-Strauss wrote about, in South America.
    One of those civilisations that does not mass do anything, like produce, or slaughter, or what you will.
    Maybe they have not YET been corrupted by money, Thai ? Isn't it possible ?
    Of course, we stubbornly maintain that they are primitive, don't we ? LOL

  22. I hope your heros are not in either Peru or Brazil?

    I have shown this diagram many times before but you may not have seen it so I will post it again. There is a very strong link between a country's wealth and the degree to which its citizen's trust each other in general.

    Evidence for this might be suggested by the behavior of wealthy Danes (Scandinavians, etc...) who feel comfortable enough to leave their infants in strollers outside stores unattended whist the parents shop inside,etc... While I think the least trusting society ever tested was a Brazilian Amazonian tribe, and they also have amongst the highest homicide rates ever recorded.

    I have this stereotype of the French as rather Rousseauean. Is this what you are suggesting?

  23. I don't have time now to look at the diagram, Thai, but I will try later.
    I will also try to find the name of the tribe that Levi Strauss was talking about. It starts with a D.
    French society is not enamored with Rousseau.
    I am enamoured with Rousseau.
    French society has 0 trust these days.
    I think that I already mentioned that Emile was burnt when it was published. That means that it is worth something, in my book...
    It would still be burnt today, Thai, you know.
    Get ready, though. Rousseau will be coming back into fashion. He already is.

  24. Rousseau will lead to the death of us all IMHO- its disconnect from 'reality' is terrifying.

    I remember seeing on the news the other day that my old med school physiology professor, Jared Diamond, optimistically gave us a 51:49 chance as a species.

    I am sure he would considerably lower our odds if he truly felt more of us were Rousseaueans.

    Don't close your mind as you open it.

  25. Well, I have already written on this blog that in certain situations, I would rather go down with a sinking ship than...

  26. Well, as it has been said before, we are living in interesting times indeed, at the crossroads. And even Obama must at times feel like captain at the helm amidst raging ocean.
    Will the present system survive - at any cost? Will a new one be found, negotiated or forced - for better or worse? A new social contract, perhaps? Will 'the rabble' take shots at the 'king'?
    D, you better choose not to go down, or you'll miss some of the answers :).