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Cyprus by Other Means ^ | March 30, 2013 | John Ransom

Posted on 03/30/2013 6:46:54 AM PDT by Kaslin

Stocks in the S&P 500 are now at record low valuations; the market trades as cheaply as it did in 1980 as measured by price-to-earnings, or PE, ratios, trading at a PE ratio of 15.4 times earnings.

While retail stock investors have largely been stuck on the sidelines, the stock market has made new highs. But despite the upward surge, things aren't as rosy for Wall Street as one might suppose.

Although individuals have added almost $20 billion to U.S. stock funds so far this year, the amount is just 3.5 percent of the withdrawals since 2007, Investment reported, and compares with $44 billion placed with fixed-income managers in 2013, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Fund inflows tend to buttress the beliefs of those who think the stock market’s short-term bull run can continue. As the old adage goes, individual investors don’t make money in the market, they just borrow from the institutions for a while.

The lack of participation by retail investors in the continuing rally would seem to indicate we have yet to hit a top -- because the retail money has yet to hit the market. And that’s the line of reasoning I would have used 10 years ago. But a lot has changed in 10 years.

There’s a growing sense of alienation between Wall Street and Main Street. Much of the alienation has to do with the lack of the right type of oversight on money and markets. That lack of confidence, which is largely political in nature, hurts PEs.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, announced he'd have difficulty prosecuting too-big-to-fail management, not because there was no violation of the laws, but simply because it might affect the economy at home and abroad.

"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions become so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute -- if we do bring a criminal charge -- it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy," Holder told senators this month. "I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."

So in other words, people like former Barack Obama economic capo, Democrat Jon Corzine, will be off the hook after his firm, MG Global, “misplaced” $1.6 billion in customer-segregated accounts in one of the top 10 bankruptcies in the country’s history.

And make no mistake: The customer segregated accounts at MF Golbal were supposedly off limits in the same way I’m not entitled to spend money in your checking account. But MF Global took the money anyway. Sound like Cyprus? Yeah. I thought so too. Like Cyprus, no one is going to jail.

Corzine and MF Global aren't the only examples either. They’re just ones that conservatives -- like me-- like to use.

For every Corzine on the left, there’s a Hank Paulson on the right trying to game the system. The issue, therefore, transcends left and right labels. The financial system we have now is a product of both sides of the aisle, and it would be wise for the political parties to admit as much.

The result of this bipartisan regulatory debacle has been that in dollar volume, the number of initial public offerings in 2011 was around $27 billion versus $31 billion in 1993. In 1993 -- before Glass–Steagall was repealed -- there were 509 offerings. In 2011, there were 81 offerings, according to Professor Jay Ritter, of the University of Florida.

What these numbers mean is that over a period of time when world wealth was growing from $25 trillion to $64 trillion, the number of initial offerings in what are supposed to be the greatest financial markets in the world fell by 84 percent.

But there's hope.

Senators David Vitter, R-La., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a resolution this week in the Senate that would help end the too-big-to-fail guarantees that the federal government now gives bigger banks, thereby depressing competition by smaller banks.

The resolution passed 99-0. And although it doesn’t have the force of law, the vote means that Vitter and Brown will try to pass something before the 2014 elections.

"I think momentum will continue to build in the spring and summer and real traction will be achieved in the fall" said Camden Fine, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, of the Brown-Vitter bill. "Between now and the midterm elections, you'll see bipartisan legislation pass the Congress that attempts to deal with too big to fail and too big to jail."

That’s the kind of confidence-boosting measure that could get the markets back to business

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Editorial

1 posted on 03/30/2013 6:46:54 AM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

Yeah, it could happen to us, too.

2 posted on 03/30/2013 7:34:30 AM PDT by RummyChick
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To: Kaslin

I’m sorry, but there’s a difference between Cyprus and MF Global. Both situations suck, but in different ways.

From my point of view, MF Global is worse because the betrayal is greater. MF Global took risks with customer money that was segregated. They used the money that was supposed to be comnpletely separated and sacred to pay off debts run off by management speculating on the company account. There was no way that any MF Global customer could have considered this a possibility according to law.

Cyprus is a bit different. Many of the customers are innocent, but they are in a weaker position legally, and IMHO, even morally. My reasoning: Cyprus banks offered well-above market interest rates on deposits. They were able to do this because they used the depositor deposits to buy high-yielding (for a while) risky Greek sovereign debt. The debt went bad, and the banks were highly leveraged, so the funds aren’t there to pay the depositors in full. It’s a different situation than the MF Global one, where the segregated accounts were simply stolen.

A bit more about the Cyprus situation, and banking in general. These days, unlike the 1930’s depression era, banks offer deposit insurance—up to a limit. In Cyprus, that limit was 100,000 Euros. In the US, the deposit insurance is $250,000 per bank per unique account owner.

Let’s aside for the moment what happens if the bank insurance fund gets tapped out, and focus on what happens to amounts in excess of the insured limit. When you invest in a bank above the insured limit, you are essentially in the same position as an investor in a hedge fund. You tend to assume that the local government will step in and make you whole, but it is not a sure thing.

The tragedy in Cyprus is that 1) some of the depositors in the above 100K category did not know the true situation (although I bet much of the Russian hot money did), 2) that the bank authorities let the bank get so over-leveraged, 3) that the EU and Basel accords perpetuated the fiction that sovereign debt was riskless, and 4) that the EU authorities were even willing to breach the 100K implied deposit limit until the political blowback became too great.

The contrast to MF is this: There was an explicit segregation in place for customer funds, and the management violated it. Corzine, along with management, should be personally liable. It isn’t a corporate accident. The segregated funds were not theirs to mis-invest. Sadly, in banks, they are—the deposits are just customer liabilities to the bank.

3 posted on 03/30/2013 1:02:17 PM PDT by Pearls Before Swine
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To: Pearls Before Swine

I would agree with this commentary.

Over the next six’ll be hard for any hotel or business to operate, and pay cash for all most vendors are now dictating. Tourists will be left stranded at airports because of a bus company refusing to pick them up unless the hotel pays them off. The same will occur with beer delivery at the hotels, and even pool maintenance.

Most tourists will need to arrive on the island with Euro in their hand. I doubt if anyone on the island will accept credit card situations.

4 posted on 03/31/2013 3:38:22 AM PDT by pepsionice
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