Cross-posted from The price of everything
By Tim Price, Director of Investment at PFP Wealth Management, a London-based fund manager
“More than half of all workers have experienced a spell of unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced to go part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been jobless for nearly six months. Collapsing share and house prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans have cancelled or cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their mortgages are underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults expect their children to have a higher standard of living than theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower.. for many Americans the great recession has been the sharpest trauma since the second world war, wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.”
– From a Pew survey on the effects of the American recession, cited in the current issue of ‘The Economist’.
“Three years ago, it seemed inconceivable that a country such as Greece would be allowed to default, or exit the euro zone. But back then it seemed equally hard to imagine that Lehman Brothers might fail. Now that Lehman has gone, who knows what the worst-case scenario might be ? Could the euro zone break up ? Could Greece default ? What might happen to other debt-laden nations, such as the US, if the worst case scenario occurred ? The one thing that is clear is that the answers to those questions now depend as much on culture and politics as on macro-economics.. In this new world of sovereign risk, what really matters is a set of issues that cannot be plugged into a spreadsheet. The old compass no longer works.”
– Gillian Tett in ‘The Financial Times’, April 2010.
“Two prisoners have escaped from a prison in Argentina after guards placed a dummy with a football for a head in the watch tower because of a shortage of manpower.. The source said that the video cameras monitoring the perimeter wall had stopped working some months ago. He said that he hoped the incident would alert the authorities to the problems with lack of resources and that politicians would act to improve the conditions.”
– ‘Prisoners escape after guards put dummy in watch tower’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, 21 July 2010.
Why did US stocks crash on May 6th this year ? That date saw the biggest one-day points decline – 998.5 – in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. For a brief period, $1 trillion in market value evaporated. Eight large company stocks, including Accenture, fell to a price of one cent, while others, including Apple and Hewlett-Packard, rose to over $100,000 per share. Having fallen by nearly 10%, the market then largely recovered. The precise cause of this extraordinary intra-day volatility remains a mystery. What seems reasonably plausible, though, is that some form of algorithmic trading, whether executed by hedge funds or investment banks (like there’s a difference), played a role. The ‘essential’ function of the stock market is to raise capital for businesses. A secondary but meaningful function is to assist in price discovery, the more or less democratic process of evaluating those businesses, with capital assessed as votes. What is not a core function of the stock market is to act as a playground for high speed leveraged speculators. As Keynes said,
“When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”
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