The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
The political consequences of the recent violent protests in Turkey are beginning to emerge. They don't add up a Turkish Spring, but they are potentially significant.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan departed on a scheduled trip to North Africa. No sooner had he left than his stand-in, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, visited President Abdullah Gul. The two men announced an approach to the protests that was the opposite of Erdogan's. This may be an attempt to play good cop/bad cop to ease tensions, but the differences are real.READ MORE
Matthew C. Klein
In my previous post, I argued that bondholders will probably be able to tolerate any "tapering" of the Federal Reserve's asset purchases so long as they aren't using much leverage and are willing to hold to maturity. After all, the Fed has been bidding up financial asset prices to stimulate the economy, and I doubt financial policymakers would consciously choose to inflict substantial losses on savers.
That said, the prices of bonds could get a lot more volatile over the next few years. One possible scenario: the Fed starts tapering its asset purchase program only to observe large increases in interest rates, thereby leading to an increase in stimulus. This sort of start-stop (or slow-down, speed-up) behavior would fit with the pattern we have seen over the past few years with QE1 and QE2.READ MORE
On Sunday, Michael Douglas gave new meaning to the phrase "too much information."
In a Guardian article, Douglas was asked whether he regretted his past smoking and drinking, which writer Xan Brooks assumed had precipitated the actor's throat cancer. The star went in a slightly different direction: "No. Because, without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus."READ MORE
When I was a kid, and my parents took me to the aquarium, I made a bee line for the shark tank, thrilled that all that stood in the way of my violent demise was a six-inch piece of bullet-proof glass. One day, while I was chilling at the shark tank, I noticed something on the back of one of the sharks: a remora, a suckerfish that had hitched a ride just behind the dorsal fin of one of my swimming merchants of death.
The suckerfish is the moocher of the sea. The shark doesn't get any benefit from the suckerfish but the suckerfish gets a ride, protection and leftovers. In other words, the suckerfish gets a free lunch.READ MORE
Henry Blodget has a post today in Business Insider applauding the rise of digital payment methods as alternatives to dirty, smelly, heavy cash. He has a point: Cash can be a lousy way to pay for things, and options such as credit and debit cards, PayPal and the digital currency Bitcoin can be a lot more convenient.
A conversation about Bitcoin as a viable currency alternative inevitably also becomes a conversation about digital online payment systems, which have been getting extra scrutiny from federal regulator recently as fears of money laundering of digital accounts escalate.READ MORE
David Gordon & Sean West
There is a vigorous debate under way about just how much drag political gridlock is exerting on the U.S. economy. To which we can only say: Gridlock? What gridlock?
Beneath the obvious dysfunction and partisan fireworks of Washington, the building blocks of a strong U.S. economic and strategic resurgence are quietly moving into place. Fortunately, the capital's hidden consensus doesn't depend on political goodwill -- still in short supply -- but on the two parties' vigorous pursuit of self-interest.READ MORE
The principled stance to take on the conviction by an Egyptian court of 43 workers from foreign nongovernmental organizations is that we shouldn't mess with an independent judiciary. However, Egypt doesn't have one.
Everything about the case, which was filed under the previous military government, has been political. The court hasn't yet published its reasoning -- the workers are accused of operating without a license and receiving foreign money -- but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the convictions make no sense. They represent an outrageous breach of the rights of well-intentioned individuals by the institution designed to protect them.READ MORE
There's something familiar about the Beijing-based online retailer LightInTheBox Holding Co., which plans to price its initial public offering this week on the New York Stock Exchange. Looking at the company's website reminds me of an old spoof in the Onion about a Chinese factory worker who can't believe the sheer amount of cheap junk Americans will buy.
"Why the demand for so many kitchen gadgets?" the fictional worker was quoted as saying in a 2005 article for the satirical newspaper. "Where do the Americans put them? How many times will you use a taco-shell holder? 'Oh, I really need this silverware-drawer sorter or I will have fits.' Shut up, stupid American." Many of the items break after a few uses, he noted.READ MORE
It's full speed ahead for mammoth infrastructure projects in California -- especially the ones designed to build a legacy for Governor Jerry Brown.
Officials last week released the final chapters of a draft plan that would divert water from the picturesque Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a vast Northern California estuary that has long been at the epicenter of the state's battles over water resources.READ MORE
A new report from the Congressional Budget Office says high earners benefit most from the complexities in the U.S. tax code -- which isn't exactly surprising. The system is a thicket of deductions and credits. Those who can pay for professional help or shift their income around benefit most. The preferential rate on investment income is among the largest of these tax breaks.
Long-term capital gains are taxed at a top marginal rate of 23.8 percent as compared to 39.6 percent for ordinary income. That reduces annual revenue by $161 billion, the CBO found. This is also the most regressive of the tax breaks: 93 percent of the benefits accrue to the top fifth of earners and two-thirds to the top 1 percent.READ MORE
A lengthy New York Times report yesterday detailed just how much more Americans pay for medical services than people in other countries. Often a lot more: almost twice what the Swiss pay for a colonoscopy, three and a half times more than the Dutch for an MRI and five times more than Spaniards for a hip replacement, according to the International Federation of Health Plans.
The high per-unit price of medical services in this country is an open secret, well documented in the health-policy world but largely ignored in the political debate. Rather than rail against high prices, Americans should rail against this: The fixes for those higher prices are clear enough, yet they get almost no consideration from policymakers.READ MORE
Issa's love of political theater and his penchant for wild accusations have rendered the House Oversight Committee he chairs completely ineffective. His investigations have been a joke. His hearings are models of partisan hackery. Yesterday he called White House press secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar" -- the kind of language that someone with Issa's record of falsehoods should probably avoid.READ MORE
New York Times columnist James Stewart had an excellent piece on Saturday about Mathew Martoma, the former portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors charged with insider trading who, as Stewart put it, "may -- or may not -- be in a position to implicate Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund's billionaire founder and owner."
Martoma has said he is innocent. He has refused to cooperate with the government. And if I had to make a wager on whether he is in a position to implicate Cohen, I would bet that he isn't. The reason I say this can be found in a paragraph toward the end of the government's original complaint against Martoma last November, which I'll get to in a moment.READ MORE
Changing the Authorization for Use of Military Force against terrorists, as President Barack Obama has proposed (see column), will face considerably more resistance in Congress than did the law itself in 2001.
Other than the declaration of war after Pearl Harbor, few major pieces of legislation have rushed through Congress as quickly.READ MORE
A real estate bust battered the banking system and household balance sheets, so the Federal Reserve responded by cutting inflation-adjusted interest rates to their lowest levels in many years. Meanwhile, tax hikes and cuts in government spending retarded recovery. Some savers were able to earn nice profits by using leverage to purchase long-duration financial assets and farmland, while others complained about low rates.
After several years of weak growth and robust markets, the real economy finally started to turn and the Fed switched to tightening mode. Much to the Fed's surprise, bond yields soared and the stock market stopped rising. Many investors lost huge sums of money, and one municipality was forced into bankruptcy thanks to an ill-judged interest rate swap.READ MORE
In 2011, protesters in Egypt occupied Cairo's central Tahrir Square to call for the downfall of the government and clashed repeatedly with police. Now, in Turkey, police have been fighting running battles to eject protesters from Gezi Park, which is attached to Istanbul's central Taksim Square.
This isn't about toppling the government, though. It's about plans for a shopping mall.READ MORE
Panda diplomacy is a thing of the past. Diplomats and the Chinese elite now have a flashier option: Chairman Mao Zedong's sedan.
The automaker China FAW Group has begun selling modern versions of the venerable Hongqi, or "Red Flag cars," after a 31-year hiatus, Bloomberg News reported. The made-in-China sedans will compete with the likes of Volkswagen's Audi in the domestic car market, which had increased 13 percent year-over-year in April, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. FAW, which spent $300 million renovating the brand, plans to invest $1.7 billion in development through 2015.READ MORE
Prominent people in Washington and on Wall Street say President Barack Obama is starting to focus on what may be the most important appointment of his second term: the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Ben Bernanke's term expires in January and he has told associates that the eight challenging years he will have served would be enough. Some people close to the president say his top personal choice to succeed Bernanke would be former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. They established a close bond over four years.READ MORE
Most Americans now think that marijuana should be legalized. A new paper for the Brookings Institution by Bill Galston and E.J. Dionne draws attention to this startling shift of public opinion: Support for legalization has surged by almost 20 percentage points in less than a decade and by 11 points in the past three years.
According to recent polling by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 52 percent of Americans favor legalization. Just 20 years ago, 80 percent of Americans opposed it. Note that these figures are for outright legalization. (Support for legalizing the medical, as opposed to recreational, use of marijuana is far stronger: 77 percent are currently for it.) Seven years ago, 50 percent of Americans thought that using marijuana was immoral; that has dropped to 32 percent.READ MORE
David Petraeus, the four-star general and former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, has recently been hired by the private equity firm KKR & Co. Bloomberg News reports that Petraeus will be leading a new unit called the KKR Global Institute. He will also be expected to "help the company evaluate investment opportunities in new markets."
Petraeus would hardly be the first person to cash out of a career in government to go into high finance, although most people who follow that path are politicians and bureaucrats rather than military officers. After all, it isn't clear what Petraeus brings to a firm like KKR that it doesn't already possess. As Kevin Roose of New York magazine put it, "his only qualifying resume line seems to have been a lucky friendship with KKR co-founder Henry Kravis."READ MORE