Do government employees and politicians actually care about you, or do they care more about the price of Exxon Mobile (NYSE: XOM) common? With 93% of Americans losing 5% of their nest egg over the past three years, and with Exxon fetching just 9X last year’s earnings and under 11X forward earnings the answer is self-explanatory. But is Exxon’s gain really your loss?
Once upon a time a former master of the universe at Citigroup (NYSE: C) prior to the financial crisis was chosen to become Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. In fact this man was in charge of many of the departments where the really infamous “structured products” were sold to unsuspecting clients (and then shorted?). To me, it seems that many big guns in government come direct via the revolving door that is the District of Columbia, where a billion bucks is just a drop in the digital monetary bucket.
Last week, Congress decided to gut most of the newly passed Stock Act, which was supposed to prevent members of Congress from trading on inside information. Now, only Congressional staffers can actually place the trades thanks to this legislative re-do. Thank goodness. After all, if you want to be powerful, you better be able to rob your own clients or at least front-run U.S. taxpayers via the TD Ameritrade (NYSE: AMTD) app on your Congressional staffer’s smart phone. It is, after all, just good business. Now that Congress and the GAO are investigating the Department of Homeland (In) Security for buying $2 billion in hollow point bullets that explode on contact (for our safety, right?), it seems that we may finally see some type of accountability in D.C. for rule makers who find new and creative ways to break the rules they just made. Just look at this excerpt regarding Congressmen Max Baucus:
“While Congressman Bachus was publicly trying to keep the economy from cratering, he was privately betting that it would, buying option funds that would go up in value if the market went down. He would make a variety of trades and profited at a time when most Americans were losing their shirts,” 60 Minutes reported.
“What we know is that those meetings were held one day and literally the next day Congressman Bachus would engage in buying stock options based on apocalyptic briefings he had the day before from the Fed chairman and treasury secretary. I mean, talk about a stock tip,” said Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.”
Read more: In Gutting The STOCK Act, Congress Plays By Its Own Rules · NYU Local http://nyulocal.com/national/2013/04/26/in-gutting-the-stock-act-congress-plays-by-its-own-rules/#ixzz2Rz6jvEi9
By the way, Ameritrade is not a stock I would short sell after Congress decided to get back into the insider trading game – these guys are the masters of self-directed investing and low cost trading. At 16.7X forward earnings, Ameritrade is a hold in my view, even with non-robot trading volume making new lows as the stock market makes new highs. In that sense, a sell-off may actually help earnings in the short term as investors could hit the panic button once again. After all, TD Ameritrade is an easy platform for Congressional staffers to understand.
It turns out that when you are the one making the laws, it’s pretty hard to be brought to justice. Considering that one acronym agency investigating another like this, will Wall Street ever actually face the music for past crimes? I doubt it, and the “ye old” statute of limitations is only around 7-10 years in most states for securities fraud. Besides, when the SEC fines a mega bank like Citigroup, the money never actually goes to the victims of the fraudulent scheming but instead goes back to Washington (that other group of schemers). Kind of like one hand washing the other. When will the FBI investigate the CIA, the SEC, or the NSA? I rather enjoy seeing the dishonest bureaucrats squirm, so this latest inquisition will be quite exciting. Look, I am true blue Democrat American and it’s my duty to ask questions.
So, are the Jeff Skillings of the world really winning? Are they raising money and burning investors along their climb to the top, where government and Wall Street meet to trade on insider information? It sounds like a bad novel, but frankly it’s looking more and more like the game is rigged. Fraud is kind of a new social currency, but I digress. I’m just a long-term investor and must play the hole cards I’m dealt like everyone else. I hope the stock market rises forever, or at least 10% per year, because I’m long. It doesn’t mean I think the stock pumping central bank strategy is fair or equitable, on the other hand. The trouble is, that it will take more regulation and enforcement as well as executive pay caps (Personally, I favor max CEO pay at 2% of market capitalization – anything above that gets a little fishy) and a major restructuring of corporate incentives to get there. CEO pay is up an incredible 20% since 2009, and is now at 204 times that of the “rank and file” corporate employee. Those numbers mean that while Wall Street is booming, the underlying economic weakness persists. In the end, virtuous people must square the virtuous circle or the entire system falls apart. Ultimately, it is the values of corporate management, and the laws regarding their stewardship, that will decide the future direction of the economy and not some esoteric math calculation. On the morality front, Americans are being cut down like cannon fodder in the midst of an ever-consolidating stock market based society.
If stocks ever start falling again, there is no telling how far down the rabbit hole the corruption and dry-rot actually takes us. It’s a tough environment to be invested in, but wise stewards of capital likely need as much diversification, cash reserves, and patience as humanly possible. The short term trading game is better left to the HFT robots and the staffers who call upon them, though technical and fundamental analysis does work if you can find the time to do the research. Almost nobody beats the market over long periods of time, and the business of money management is now more than ever a rapidly consolidating industry in itself. Basically, the gains are going to an increasingly smaller group of people.
All in all, the stock market has recovered but it has recovered while leaving most Americans behind. Hopefully we get the trickle down monsoon which most economists have been selling us since the financial crisis began, and hopefully the middle class sees a pay raise sooner rather than later.