Posts Tagged ‘George Soros’

301

During the height of the euro crisis, politicians in Europe, and indeed central bankers, blamed the markets and credit ratings agencies. Yesterday an official at the Fed followed that tactic too.

Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, told the ‘FT’: “I do believe that big money does organize itself somewhat like feral hogs. If they detect a weakness or a bad scent, they go after it.”

He also took the opportunity of being interviewed by the ‘FT’ to remind us all about George Soros – the man who shorted sterling in 1992, beat the Bank of England and hastened the UK’s departure from the ERM. He likened today’s feral hogs to Mr Soros, but is that right?

Being a messenger is never a good place to be, not if you bring bad news anyway. When Eurozone politicians blamed credit ratings agencies, and what they called bond vigilantes for the woes in Europe, they were surely deluding themselves. They had fooled themselves into thinking the crisis was less serious than it was, and they thought they could talk until the cows came home. The markets went some way towards correcting their complacency.

By hastening the UK’s departure from the ERM, George Soros probably did the UK a favour.

But what about this time?

Markets are selling because there are fears that interest rates are set to rise. The Fed has said as much, and even in China there are signs of monetary tightening.

But don’t forget that the news out of the US has been good of late. To remind you of two of the highlights: US banks’ profits were at an all-time high in Q1, and US households have cut debt substantially since 2007.

As things stand, the Dow remains substantially up on its start of year position as does the Nikkei 225 in Japan. And that makes sense.

Markets probably overdid their exuberance in May, but both the US and Japan are in a better place now than they were at the beginning of the year.

As far as equities are concerned, in addition to fears about the Fed tightening monetary policy, some are nervous about the possibility that US profits to GDP are set to fall. But in the long run, profits to GDP falling and wages to GDP rising is surely good thing.
Even higher interest rates are a good thing, if higher rates are symptomatic of the economy returning to normal.

But higher interest rates will be bad news for those with high debts, and for that reason the UK and – more so – the Eurozone may lose out.

The FTSE 100 has not performed as well as US markets this year. Unlike the Dow, it never did pass its all-time high. And unlike the Dow, the FTSE 100 has now fallen to within a whisker of its start of year price. That is probably about right.

But at least the UK has its own central bank, free to print money and buy bonds via quantitative easing.

The countries of the indebted Eurozone do not have such a luxury, which is why Europe may yet be the biggest loser.

Image: Pig In Pen by Kim Newberg

© Investment & Business News 2013

217

All of a sudden the criticism is coming from everywhere. From George Soros to the Australian Treasurer; from the US Treasury Secretary to a former German Finance Minister, Germany’s leader Angel Merkel is being put under enormous policy to change tack. Is the great European experiment with austerity about to be ditched?

Perhaps one of the more surprising elements of the recent media coverage of the death of Lady Thatcher has been the focus on her views on the unification of Germany. Opinion seems divided on what, precisely, she believed, (whether unification should not happen at all, or should be merely delayed).

It is clear, however, that she had grave reservations. The unification of Germany probably led to acceleration in the European project; the idea being that a more closely integrated Europe, especially closer ties between France and Germany would act, as a counter weight to Germany’s new found might. Lady Thatcher, it appears, felt that not even that approach would work; that a united Germany would become virtually all powerful within such a union.

But the discussion on Lady’s Thatcher’s views on German unification is really about something else. Germany’s position within Europe is becoming increasingly unpopular and seemingly unrelated developments in the news have been sucked into the debate.

The criticisms of Germany have reached a new crescendo for two reasons. The first factor is the contrast with Japan. Its new programme of QE is not so much making the Eurozone look as if it is behind the curve, as making it look as if it is not on the curve at all. The second factor is the Cypriot debacle. The way this crisis was dealt with in Europe has left a nasty scar on the entire European project.

The US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been in Europe, and while he made some attempt to couch his words diplomatically, it is very hard not to interpret his comments as being hugely critical of Germany. He said at a press conference: “I was particularly interested in our European partners’ plans to strengthen sources of demand at a time of rising unemployment.” Err so what plans are those, exactly? Europe does not go for demand management. The ethos in Europe seems to be austerity and let demand take care of itself.

George Soros has been in Frankfurt, and while there he made a speech slating Germany for the way it dealt with the Cypriot crisis and said Europe’s biggest economy should do one of two things. Either it should support euro bonds, whereby bonds issued by one government are guaranteed by all members, or Germany should leave the euro.

He said: “Germany has no right to prevent the heavily indebted countries from escaping their misery by banding together and using Eurobonds.” He added: “The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the Eurozone. Austerity does not work. You cannot shrink the debt burden by shrinking the deficit.”

Meanwhile former Australian Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s Treasurer Wayne Swan has praised the monetary policies of the US and Japan. “Thank God for the Fed,” he said. He could just as easily have said “Curse the Eurozone.” It would have meant much the same thing.

In Germany, the former Finance Minister and now political rival to Mrs Merkel Peer Steinbrück used an interview in ‘Spiegel’ to slam Mrs Merkel’s focus on austerity. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman used his ‘New York Times’ column to congratulate Japan on its new bold approach to QE: “Seriously,” he said, “this is very good news.”

Austerity can work if applied in isolation, but when it is applied across a continent as important to the global economy as Europe it can become self-defeating.

©2013 Investment and Business News.

Investment and Business News is a succinct, sometimes amusing often thought provoking and always informative email newsletter. Our readers say they look forward to receiving it, and so will you. Sign-up here

199

To many he is a hero. He is the investor extraordinaire, the man who is now ranked fourth richest in the world, thanks to his all-round savvy. He is, of course, Warren Buffett. But was he lucky?

What about George Soros for that matter? He may have defeated the Bank of England, made a fortune by betting against central banks, and may be attempting – riding on the back of his financial record – to present himself as possessing sound academic credentials, but was he lucky?

Have you ever played that game at a party, when you all stand up, and have to raise either your right or left hand. A judge then tells all those who put, say, their right hand up, to sit down. The rest once again have to choose between right and left hand. The judge decides again which half has to sit down. You keep going until there is only person left. This person is the winner.

With the benefit of hindsight, you can see how that winner made a series of good calls. Let’s say the winner got the call right seven times in a row. What are the odds of that? Well, to be precise they are one in 128.

Of course you know that it was down to luck. If there were 128 people at the party, the odds of any one person wining such a game were one in 128, but the odds that someone might win were 100 per cent.

Now make the game more complex. Involve derivatives and shorting, and leverage and balance sheets. And say the odds of success are one in six billion. In a planet of six billion people those odds will smile on one person, but were they any cleverer than the winner of our party game?

That is harsh. Buffett and Soros are clever. And they are savvy, and there was more to their success than pure luck, but how much was luck, and how much was judgement? How much was down to a particular strategy happening to be the right strategy for the time? In an economy that is steadily growing over time, an investor who believes in a taking long term bets may well be a winner. Supposing instead that your investment strategy involved betting on companies named after a fruit, and you launched your strategy about ten years ago. You would have done pretty well. Does that mean your strategy will always work?

Anyway, whatever you think, Bill Gross – who sits at the upper end of the pantheon of great investors next to Buffett, Soros and Jim Rogers – wrote in an investment outlook he calls ‘man in the mirror’: “All of us, even the old guys like Buffett, Soros, Fuss, yeah – me too, have cut our teeth during perhaps a most advantageous period of time, the most attractive epoch, that an investor could experience…perhaps it was the epoch that made the man as opposed to the man that made the epoch.”

He said: “There is not a Bond King or a Stock King or an Investor Sovereign alive that can claim title to a throne.”

©2013 Investment and Business News.

Investment and Business News is a succinct, sometimes amusing often thought provoking and always informative email newsletter. Our readers say they look forward to receiving it, and so will you. Sign-up here