In candid moment, Bernanke lets out the truth

I love it when a reporter catches a high-profile official letting down his guard:

SEWARD, NE—Claiming he wasn’t afraid to let everyone in attendance know about “the real mess we’re in,” Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reportedly got drunk Tuesday and told everyone at Elwood’s Corner Tavern about how absolutely fucked the U.S. economy actually is.

Bernanke, who sources confirmed was “totally sloshed,” arrived at the drinking establishment at approximately 5:30 p.m., ensconced himself upon a bar stool, and consumed several bottles of Miller High Life and a half-dozen shots of whiskey while loudly proclaiming to any patron who would listen that the economic outlook was “pretty goddamned awful if you want the God’s honest truth.”

“Look, they don’t want anyone except for the Washington, D.C. bigwigs to know how bad shit really is,” said Bernanke, slurring his words as he spoke. “Mounting debt exacerbated—and not relieved—by unchecked consumption, spiraling interest rates, and the grim realities of an inevitable worldwide energy crisis are projected to leave our entire economy in the shitter for, like, a generation, man, I’m telling you.”

“And hell, as long as we’re being honest, I might as well tell you that a truer estimate of the U.S. unemployment rate is actually up around 16 percent, with a 0.7 percent annual rate of economic growth if we’re lucky—if we’re lucky,” continued Bernanke, nearly knocking a full beer over while gesturing with his hands…

…Numerous bar patrons slowly nodded in agreement as Bernanke went on to suggest the United States could pass three or four more stimulus packages and “it wouldn’t even matter.”

“You think that’s going to create long-term economic growth, let alone promote job creation?” Bernanke said. “We’re way beyond that, my friend. There are no jobs, okay? There’s nothing. I think that calls for another drink, don’t you?”

While using beer bottles and pretzel sticks in an attempt to explain to the bartender the importance of infusing $650 billion into the bond market, the inebriated Fed chairman nearly fell off his stool and had to be held up by the patron sitting next to him.

Another bargoer confirmed Bernanke stood about 2 inches from her face and sprayed her with saliva, claiming inflation was going to “totally screw” consumer confidence and then asking if he could bum a smoke.

“Sure, we could hold down long-term interest rates and pursue a program of quantitative easing, but c’mon, we all know that’s not going to make the slightest bit of difference when it comes to output, demand, or employment,” Bernanke said before being told to “try to keep [his] voice down” by the bartender. “And trust me, with the value of the U.S. dollar in the toilet, import costs going through the roof, and numerous world governments unprepared for their own substantial debt burdens, shit’s not looking too good for us abroad, either.”

“God, I’m so wasted,” added Bernanke, resting his head on the bar.

Customers at the bar told reporters the “shitfaced” and disruptive Bernanke refused to pay for his drinks with U.S. currency, claiming it was “worthless.” Witnesses also confirmed that near the end of the evening, Bernanke put money into the jukebox and selected Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” to play five times in a row.

Read the whole thing here.

And who knew Bernanke and I had similar tastes in music?

Keynes vs. Hayek, Round 2

I like how at the end Keynes is pulled up to his feet and declared the victor (no matter how obvious a failure, the corrupt system keeps applying his theories). Then the Washington mandarins, Wall Street bigwigs and press all gather around him while the nerds come to congratulate Hayek. The press often implies that the Wall Street crowd loves Hayek and laissez-faire (“unrestrained markets” and all that), when in reality the moneyed political players support intervention since they are successful rent seekers and bailout recipients.

The key point that well-intentioned supporters of government (like most everyone in Europe) often miss is summed up in this phrase from Hayek:

“With political incentives, discretion’s a joke.
Those dials they’re twisting, just mirrors and smoke.”


For those who haven’t seen it, this is the first video:


And the real Hayek on Keynes:

John Hussman agrees May 6 decline no glitch, but normal and even predictable

Summary: Crashes are a normal consequence of extremely overbought and overpriced markets, and huge rallies like Monday’s are almost the exclusive providence of bear markets. Crashes and giant rallies are both characteristic of times of credit stress.

First, let John Stewart explain (if like me you’re not in the US, try this trick to watch restricted videos) :

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
A Nightmare on Wall Street
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party


Now on to Hussman. The below is taken from his latest market comment. You could also say that Hussman “called” this decline, since starting several weeks prior to the peak (see archive) he characterized the market as “overvalued, overbought, and overbullish” and hedged up his stock mutual fund with put options and short call positions. I have followed him for some time, and he is as good a market timer as I know*; you don’t want to be long stocks when he’s fully hedged!

Of all the mysteries of the stock exchange there is none so impenetrable as why there should be a buyer for everyone who seeks to sell. October 24, 1929 showed that what is mysterious is not inevitable. Often there were no buyers, and only after wide vertical declines could anyone be induced to bid … Repeatedly and in many issues there was a plethora of selling orders and no buyers at all. The stock of White Sewing Machine Company, which had reached a high of 48 in the months preceding, had closed at 11 on the night before. During the day someone had the happy idea of entering a bid for a block of stock at a dollar a share. In the absence of any other bid he got it.”

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1955, The Great Crash

“I started accumulating stocks in December of ’74 and January of ’75. One stock that I wanted to buy was General Cinema, which was selling at a low of 10. On a whim I told my broker to put in an order for 500 GCN at 5. My broker said, ‘Look, Dick, the price is 10, you’re putting in a crazy bid.’ I said ‘Try it.’ Evidently, some frightened investor put in an order to ‘sell GCN at the market’ and my bid was the only bid. I got the stock at 5.”

Richard Russell, 1999, Dow Theory Letters

…If the decline we’ve seen to date is the entire resolution of the recent overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields syndrome, investors will be fortunate. Given that last week’s decline was just enough to clear the “overbought” component of this condition at least on short-term basis, we lowered our S&P 500 put strikes closer to current market levels and “re-set” our staggered strike hedge in the Strategic Growth Fund enough to put us in a more constructive position if the market advances more than a few percent, while maintaining a strong defense against a further market loss. Our overall position is much like a fully hedged stance with a couple of percent of assets in out-of-the-money index calls. We’re in no hurry to “buy the dip.” We don’t rule out much larger, and possibly profoundly larger market losses, but again, last week gave us a nice opportunity to re-set our strikes in a way that allows us to be comfortable in the event that the market recovers.

Thursday was a fascinating day in the market, featuring a 20-minute span in which the Dow moved from a loss of about 300 points to a loss of nearly 1000 points and then back again within a span of about 15-20 minutes. While the decline and recovery was interesting, the fascinating part was the eagerness of investors to view the decline as a “glitch” in trading. My hope is that the opening quotations in this weekly comment are sufficient reminders that illiquidity is not a “glitch,” but a typical feature of panicked markets. In a market where active market makers have increasingly been replaced by “high frequency” trading algorithms that can be switched off at will, it is important for investors to avoid the assumption that there will be a willing buyer close at hand if risk concerns begin to escalate.

If you spend a good portion of your time studying price-volume behavior, “air pockets” of the type we observed last week become familiar parts of the landscape (though they are typically not so distilled into a single intra-day move). Robust demand is the only thing that holds prices from falling vertically in the face of eager selling. Overvalued, overbought, overbullish markets are often already spent of that demand. As investors suddenly became aware of that reality on Thursday, all I could think was “welcome to my world.”

…I think the best way to characterize the market here is to view the area between 1080 and about 1130 on the S&P 500 as something of an “inflection point.” A clear decline below about 1080 on the S&P 500 would most likely put market internals in a clearly negative position, leaving the market with a coupling of overvaluation and negative market internals that has historically been very hostile. We’re not yet to that point, however, so it’s reasonable to allow for the potential for a recovery from these levels while still maintaining a tight hedge against further weakness.

I made many of the same points prior to the mini-crash (, noting the likely record extreme in bullish complacency in the equity put:call ratio, as well as extreme overvaluation and mutual fund cash levels matching the 2007 peak.

After the crash last Thursday I noted that these things just happen. They are one of the risks of the stock market, and are as old as floor trading:

The fact is, markets just fall out of bed sometimes. It’s normal, and they don’t need the kind of reasons you can read about in the paper. Greece had nothing to do with it.

A move like this off a top does not mark the end. If we had plunged hard and reversed like this after we were already reading oversold on sentiment and momentum gauges, it could mark a bottom, but not right off the top — that is what should scare people today. This was not like Black Monday ‘87 — it’s more like the Black Thursdays of ‘29 and ‘08 (huge intraday crashes with recoveries, followed the next week by the real crashes), or the Friday before the ‘87 crash (down 5%). It’s likely a kickoff to more downside. New highs are possible, but looking less and less likely, and we doomsayers might be right after all these months…

You can’t predict a crash, but you can tell probabilities, and the probability of a decline was high as of last week. We had an extremely, extremely depressed put:call ratiomomentum was rolling over, mutual funds were all-in, and just about every measure of sentiment showed that complacency and bullishness were off the charts.

Also the day after the crash I said not to blame the computers and not to reverse those trades:

I didn’t mention anything about computers here, which any discussion of yesterday should have. So yes, computer stop-loss orders kicked in and buy orders were pulled, but this is just what would happen with humans. Every market in the world has experienced some kind of crash this week. It’s not the machines – they basically just do what people do, but faster.

However, you can probably blame computers if you got screwed out of something during a split-second 50-99% drop — that would probably be less likely to happen in a market with human specialists to absorb order flow with their brokerage’s books.  But that’s not the cause of the crash, just something that happens during a crash — buyers pull out and stop-losses kick in. In ‘29 you also had solid companies selling for a buck for a few trades. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and one of the myriad risks of the equity market.

(BTW, breaking those trades was likely a bad decision on the part of the exchanges. If they had let them sit, those kinds of ridiculous plunges to a penny would be less likely to happen again, as everyone today would be coding away to program their bots to snap up “bargains” during the next swoon. If they could just turn around and cancel the trades, who’s going to take that risk, since you might end up short a stock trading at $20 the next day that you’d bought for $10 and sold for $15?  Doesn’t anyone believe in markets anymore? Not even people who run the stock markets? Just let them be, and participants will naturally seize opportunities and add efficiency to the market.)

The cause of this crash is just an overbought, overbullish, overvalued market during a depression (9.9% headline unemployment again, 17% real).


Mish provided these charts (visit his post to see more data) which help to put the drop into perspective (“largest point drop in history” is meaningless — what counts is the percentage). The data here also shows that huge single-day rallies like Monday’s seem to only happen in bear markets, (as I pointed out on Day 2 of this blog back in August 2008 before the crash):

*By the way, here’s the 10-year record of Hussman’s equity mutual fund (top blue line), which, as I understand it, is contractually obligated to be near fully invested in stocks at all times, though it may hedge 100% of its long exposure but not go net short:

Excellent interview with Michael Lewis on the “oddballs” who made the big short.

Here on Bloomberg. Very long but worth the time — just put it on in the background.

He says that the only guys doing serious credit analysis on mortgage bonds in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were those looking to find the very worst and go short.

Also, Goldman would have been just another bagholder if the market had cratered a year before it actually did. They didn’t start to get their trading book in order until Spring 2007.

So, who does he think were the villians? Not just guys who were going with the flow, but the knowing perpetrators. He fingers bankers such as those at Goldman who created and sold synthetic CDOs and pushed them on firms like AIG. Goldman and certain people there are among the “genuine elites” and don’t have a “sense of social obligation.” Basically, they have no shame.

The TARP recipients were “unnaturally selected.”

As much as I like Michael Lewis as a narrator, I do not agree with his take on the role of government. He still believes that regulation can contain the market. When Goldman owns the regulators, it just can’t. Markets find a way around regulations, and connected players find ways to use regulations as a weapon. Simply take away the moral hazard of the Treasury and Fed, and these firms would have had the incentive neccessary for caution.

Marc Faber and Mish Shedlock on inflation vs. deflation

View on the Yahoo! Tech Ticker by clicking here.



I’m with Mish in this debate of course, since a credit implosion trumps a money printer, I but have the utmost respect for the adroit Swiss. The two of them have much more in common than either has with most other money managers or commentators.

I totally agree with Faber that the US is not a civilized nation anymore, entirely due to the expansion of the state. I could say the same about the UK, Canada, Australia and most of western Europe. The whole region feels like a big kindergarten where the teacher wears a .380 and a bulletproof vest.

I’m with Hendry

Taleb thinks hyperinflation is a strong enough possibility to justify way OTM bets on gold (long) and bonds (short). The one bit I agree with is the long gold / short stocks play (though I think gold is likely to fall with stocks, just not as much), and I suspect that deflationist Hendry would concur.

Hendry thinks that deflation is here to stay, that nations will start to default, and that the market will at least start to worry about sovereign defaults by nations like Germany and the US (even if they don’t actually default, he’ll make money in that situation as the price of insurance goes up).

(The video cuts off when Hendry passes the mic, and I don’t have a link to the rest. If anybody else does, please post it.)  (EDIT: Minute 24:00 and after. Thanks Charles!)

Hendry makes a point I’ve made myself: the euro is like gold for countries like Greece (they can’t print it) so it will have to default.

Hendry says his porfolio is inspired by Nassim, but basically the opposite. He’s fed up with other people’s opinions. The hedge fund guys are “so uncool.” He doesn’t talk to brokers, and he reads nobody else’s research.

Debt loads are bound to squeeze all of the vitality out of the risk takers in the market.

UK interest rates are at the lowest since the Bank of England was established in 1692. He is betting that the central banks won’t raise rates in the next 4 months and he will make 4x his dough if right.

He thinks the sovereign default scenario today is like the mortage bond situation three years ago.

Now, who is the true contrarian? Is hyperinflation really a black swan right now? Every chat board on the net has been buzzing about it for years. When Taleb said every human being should short treasuries, every human being agreed with him!